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Department of the Study of Religions

Shi'a Islam: Religious Authority and Community Identity

Course Code:
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year
This advanced full-unit UG course, unique in all London universities, provides a in-depth survey of Shiʿi Islam. In the first half of the course the focus is laid on the origins, doctrinal developments and their respective historical manifestations of Shiʿi Islam, while the historical developments and contemporary outlook of Shiʿi Muslim communities in various geographical regions are at the centre of the second part of the course.
Since this course picks up on the relevant session in the 1st year UG course “Islam: Foundations” (158000189), it is strongly recommended that this was successfully attended beforehand.
This course is taught in seminar style, i.e. there will not be any formal division in lecture and tutorial, but a reading-based classroom discussion with the occasional elucidation by the course tutor.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of this course, a student should be able to:

  • evaluate the place of the Shiʿi groups within the broader context of Islamic history;
  • identify and explain the distinguishing features of Shiʿi doctrine(s);
  • assess the interdependence of religious and political ideas, both in general and in specific relation to the Shiʿi grand-narrative;
  • evaluate the relationship between personal charisma and religious authority, both in general and in relation to the Shiʿi grand-narrative;
  • apply general undergraduate skills, e.g. in writing, critical thinking and argument, necessary for the academic study of a religion within a Study-of-Religions framework.

Method of assessment

Two essays (2,500 words each) (30% each), Two-hour exam (40%).

Suggested reading

  • Arjomand, S A (1988) The Turban for the Crown: the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Oxford.
  • Halm, Heinz (1991) Shiism Edinburgh.
  • Hamdani, A H (1956) The Beginnings of the of Isma'ili Da'wa in Northern India, Cairo.
  • Jafri, S H M (1979) Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam, London.