Reason, Esotericism, and Authority in Shiʿi Islam


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This volume advances the critical study of exegetical, doctrinal, and political authority in Shiʿi Islam. Naive dichotomies of “reason” and “esotericism” in Islamic Studies have often marginalized Shiʿi thought or impeded its understanding. The studies presented here aim to foster more exacting frameworks for interpreting the diverse modes of rationality and esotericism in Twelver and Ismaili Shiʿism and the socio-epistemic values they represent within Muslim discourse.

The volume’s contributions highlight the cross-sectarian genealogy of early Shiʿi esotericism; the rationale behind Fatimid Ismaili Quranic taʿwīl hermeneutics; the socio-political context of religious authority in nascent Twelver Shiʿism; authorial agency wielded by Imami hadith compilers; the position of esoteric Shiʿi traditions in Timurid-era Ḥilla; and Shiʿi-Sufi relations with Uṣūlī jurists in modern Iran.

Contributors: Rodrigo Adem, Alessandro Cancian, Edmund Hayes, Sajjad Rizvi, Tahera Qutbuddin, Paul Walker, George Warner

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Rodrigo Adem (PhD University of Chicago, 2015), is assistant professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University. He specializes in classical Islamic intellectual history, both Shiʿi and Sunni, across the sectarian divide.
Edmund Hayes ( PhD University of Chicago, 2015) is a postdoctoral researcher at Leiden University. He works on early Islamic history, focusing on the intersection of intellectual developments and social and political dynamics. His research focuses on the institutions of the Imamate within the cosmopolitan cultures of early Islamic empires. He has written articles on tax and revenue collection, Imamic letters, Shiʿism compared with other groups in Islam, Christianity and Judaism. He has written articles on early Islamic articulations of concepts of cosmopolitanism, ethnicity, and gender, sexuality and the body in political thought.
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Introduction: On the Use and Abuse of Reason and Esotericism in Islamic Studies
Rodrigo Adem and Edmund Hayes

1 Early Ismailism and the Gates of Religious Authority: Genealogizing the Theophanic Secret of Early Esoteric Shiʿism
Rodrigo Adem

2 The Imam Who Might Have Been: Jaʿfar “the Liar” between Political Realism and Esoterist Idealism
Edmund Hayes

3 Explaining Prayer: Hadith and Esotericism in al-Shaykh al-Ṣadūq’s ʿIlal al-Sharāʾiʿ
George Warner

4 The Doctrine of Ta‌ʾwīl in Fatimid Ismaili Texts
Paul Walker

5 Principles of Fatimid Symbolic Interpretation (Ta‌ʾwīl): An Analysis Based on the Majālis Muʾayyadiyya of al-Muʾayyad al-Shīrāzī (d. 470/1078)
Tahera Qutbuddin

6 Esoteric Shiʿi Islam in the Later School of al-Ḥilla: Walāya and Apocalypticism in al-Ḥasan b. Sulaymān al-Ḥillī (d. after 1399) and Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 1411)
Sajjad Rizvi

7 Sufi Mysticism and Uṣūlī Shiʿism: Practical Authority in Modern Iranian Shiʿi Sufism
Alessandro Cancian

Scholars and students of Shiʿism and Islamic studies
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