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Living Shi'ism: Instances of Ritualisation among Islamist Men in Contemporary Iran
Uppsala University, Humanistisk-samhällsvetenskapliga vetenskapsområdet, Faculty of Theology, Department of Theology, History of Religions.
2003 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Iranian Shi‘ism is, among other things, known for its rituals of sorrow. In the contemporary Iranian context, active participation in these rituals has become a sign of support for the Islamist regime. The aim of this study is to discuss the ritual activities in the lives of a group of supporters of the regime. It seeks to explore the purposes and meanings of intense ritual commitment among Islamist individuals on a grass-roots level. Based on interviews with five individuals and fieldwork in their mosque community in Esfahān during the years 1999–2003, the study characterises different levels of meaning in their ritual activity.

To begin with, there is a canonical level of meaning, a framework of Islamic theology and law in which religiously prescribed conduct has its given place and purpose. In the community of my informants, this canonical meaning is conveyed at public gatherings that are lead by religious authorities. The paramount concept discussed at these meetings is virtue, taqvā. At lectures, Koran classes and prayer meetings ritual activity is related to ambition to uphold moral purity in a world of temptations.

To a certain extent the values, ideas and modes of conduct that are promoted by the authorities become the thoughts and behaviour of the individual informants. This hap-pens through a social authorisation process. Although the informants are much aware of canonical meanings they also construe ritual activities in their own personal ways. They find meanings which, although they do not necessarily contradict the canonical ones, are related to the informants’ own life situations. Hence, there is also a self-referential level of meaning in the ritual activity. This level differs between the various individuals and may change from one time to another.

Finally, there is an embodied meaning in ritual activity which is difficult to verbalise. Ritual is not only performed ideas, but also bodily experience in its own right. The strongly emotional rituals to which my informants are committed are clear examples of this as they are experienced in and expressed through the body. The meaning of ritual, then, is created through a conglomeration of the culturally conveyed canonical interpreta-tions of life and of the informants’ own embodied experiences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Religionshistoria , 2003. , 252 p.
Keyword [en]
History of religions, authorisation, uthority, basij, embodiment, emotion, Iran, Islam, Islamism, male religiosity, ritual, ritualisation, shi'ism, sorrow, virtue
Keyword [sv]
National Category
History of Religions
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-3588OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-3588DiVA: diva2:163340
Public defence
2003-10-11, IX, Universitetshuset, Uppsala, 10:15
Available from: 2003-09-05 Created: 2003-09-05Bibliographically approved

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