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Professor Oliver Scharbrodt

The Study of Shia Islam in British Academia

The Study of Shia Islam in British Academia


This papers investigates the development of Shia Studies in British academia and provides an overview of institutions of higher education undertaking research and providing teaching in Shia Islam in Britain. Until 1979, Shia Islam was a neglected field in Islamic Studies and often approached from a Sunni majoritarian perspective. The Orientalist politicisation of Islam and focus on Islam as a political force favoured the neglect of Shia Islam in research activities, because until 1979 Shia Islam was seen as a marginal political force in the Muslim world. This changed with the Islamic Revolution in 1979 leading to a rapid increase of research on Shia Islam in Western academia. With the success of the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent wider religious and political mobilisation of Shia communities across the world, Shia Islam was for the first time seen as an important political force in contemporary Islam that had to be understood. The politicisation of Islam in Orientalist and Neo-Orientalist research agendas came again to the fore with research interest stimulated by the framing of Shia Islam as new powerful political movement.

At the moment, in Britain academia research on Shia Islam is undertaken at the universities of Exeter, Edinburgh, Durham, Glasgow and – most recently – Chester. Most research revolves around two areas: the formation and historical development of Shia Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) and mystical philosophy (‘irfan). The approaches that most researchers have been taken are historical and textual. The newly established Chester Centre for Islamic Studies intends to add important ethnographic research perspectives to illustrate lived Shia Islam in the contemporary world. While Shia Islam is touched upon and referred to in courses on Islam and the Middle East, only two universities offer stand-alone courses on Shia Islam at the moment: the University of Edinburgh and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

In addition to research and teaching undertaken at British universities, there are a number of institutions of higher learning that affiliated with Shia organisations and institutions and support research and teaching in this area such as the Islamic College London, the International College of Islamic Sciences in London and the Al-Mahdi Institute in Birmingham. There are also a number of academic outreach centres in London affiliated to Shia centres in the capital that organise seminars and conferences and publish research on Shia Islam such as the Centre for Academic Shi’a Studies (based at and affiliated to the Al-Khoie Foundation) and the Centre for Islamic Shi’a Studies (part of the Imam Al-Jawad Centre). To bridge the gap between academic research undertaken at British universities and traditional scholarship, new models of institutional partnership need to be developed in order to foster dialogue between the two scholarly traditions of investigating Shia Islam.


14:56 - 28/02/2016    /    Number : 71309    /    Show Count : 1781





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