This paper discusses the interpretation of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismailis via the constitutionally established institutions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs). It views the Constitution as a variety of non-scriptural “religious text” and discusses the social and historical context of the community, the Constitution and the CABs. The paper argues that the structure and operation of the CABs are designed to balance diverse local and contextual factors within the tradition and doctrine of singular Imamat authority and that, in so doing, the interpretational system of the CABs demonstrates how religious texts may be understood in ways that accommodate plurality and community engagement while still preserving hierarchy and authority.
This essay introduces the Special Issue of the Journal. It discusses how changing religious demographics and heightened religious plurality are challenging existing thinking about, and patterns of, state-religion relations and the nature of the ‘secular state’. The essay briefly surveys each of the papers in the Special Issue and highlights that one of the key lessons that emerges from the papers is the importance of context. As the contexts evolve, fresh thinking and new arrangements would be needed.