2020 Shiʿi Studies Symposium

The University of Chicago Shiʿi Studies Group Symposium

Call for Papers (CFP): 

“But by the love you bear my kin”: Devotion (Walāya) and Shiʿi Islam

Abstract Submission Deadline: October 31, 2019

Symposium Date: April 3-4, 2020

The Shiʿi Studies Group at the University of Chicago will host its 2020 annual symposium on the theme of walāya—the call of devotion to the Ahl al-Bayt that is at the core of Shiʿi beliefs. The Shiʿi Studies Group has provided a scholarly forum to discuss pressing questions of the field. One unifying theme of the symposia of the past few years has been the institutional development of Shiʿi Islam, as we have considered the authority of the Imams, the development of centers of learning, Shiʿism and governance, and dynamics of sectarianism in Islam. The 2020 symposium will build upon these previous events by addressing the foundational issue of walāya in Shiʿi Islam.

Walāya, a multivalent term largely understood to mean “devotion” to the family of the Prophet, the Imam, and the Imam’s devotees, is a bedrock of Shiʿi belief and practice. Walāya is a necessary component of all avenues of Shiʿi religious engagement, from theological understanding to political ideology. However, defining walāya and its limits is made difficult by shifting community boundaries and needs throughout space and time. How have the Shiʿa addressed walāya in different times, fields, and contexts? In addition, how has walāya been thought of in different ways by different schools within Shiʿi Islam, including Twelvers, Ismaʿilis, Zaydis, ʿAlawis, and others? Groups that have defined themselves based on a concept of walāya have often had this transmuted into accusations of ghuluww (devotional extremism) –how much do they exist alongside each other, in parallel tracks? By addressing the concept of walāya in Shiʿi Islam, our conference will open a forum for discussing the larger implications of devotion as the foundation of religious development.

Though this symposium will focus on walāya in Shiʿi Islam, our methods of inquiry are not limited to the Shiʿi tradition. Conceptualizing walāya in a Shiʿi context can be used to better understand devotion and piety in Islamic and religious studies more broadly. What are parallel discussions in related fields regarding the idea of devotion and divine love? What of historical debates over religious devotion and political authority, problems of excess, and devotional attitudes towards saints? While addressing devotion and walāya as a concept in Shiʿi Studies specifically, the questions we raise will apply to the field of Islamic Studies as a whole.

Papers will be accepted which focus on both modern and pre-modern subject areas, and might address – but are by no means limited to – topics such as the following:

  • Broader implications for the thought, historical context, and doctrines informing debates on mawadda and walāya;
  • Integration and rationalization of walāya by Shiʿi-oriented thinkers and philosophers, and its relation to the wider field of Islamic thought and philosophy;
  • Legal efforts to define normative practices around walāya and its integration into larger social, economic, and political spheres;
  • Walāya and popular piety in both Shiʿi Muslim communities, and comparatively in non-Shiʿi Muslim communities as well;
  • The idea of “excessive” walāya in Shiʿism, which may include defining the concept of ghuluww, “exaggeration,” and considering historical criteria used to determine this “excessive” devotion.

Format of the Symposium

Presenters will be requested to present for approximately 25 minutes followed by additional time for moderated discussion between panelists and the audience. Abstracts of around 300 words along with a CV should be submitted by October 31, 2019. Send abstracts to shiistudies@gmail.com , with the words “UChicago Shiʿi Studies Symposium Application” in the subject line.

About the Symposium

The University of Chicago Shiʿi Studies Symposium is an endeavor of the Shiʿi Studies Group, established in 2010, to provide an interdisciplinary, non-area-specific forum for the discussion of research on Shiʿism by faculty and graduate students at the University and beyond. The annual symposium aims to strengthen the field of Shiʿi Studies by bringing together a group of both senior and early-career scholars to present research and to cultivate an environment for intellectual discussion and collaboration. At each symposium, we aim to address a focused set of questions with cross-cutting relevance to scholars working on various periods and from various disciplinary perspectives.