IRANIAN REVIEW of Foreign Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter 2011, pp. 175-190.
Shi‘i Studies and the Islamic Republic of Iran: Claiming Islam Back to its OwnHistory
Barack Obama’s message to the Iranian people and government on theoccasion of Nowruz 1388 (2009) and the appointment of Vali Nasr earlier thesame year as Senior Advisor to the US Special Representative for Afghanistanand Pakistan arguably marked a turning point in the US foreign policy vis-à-vis the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Shi‘as at large; indicating an enhancedrole for Shi‘i Studies in shaping American foreign policy.. However, a numberof European and American historians of Islam have endeavored for quitesome time to inform both the Western governments and the general publicthat there is the necessity to distinguish between Islam as an “object” of study within the framework of the history of religions and Islam as a politicalphenomenon – and therefore as an object of study for the political scientist.The present article, drawing on the writer’s understanding of someimplications of a recent work of synthesis about the history of the academichistoriography concerning Shi‘i Islam by the Italian Shi‘itologist/historianBiancamaria Scarcia Amoretti (November 2010), addresses the implications of the post-1979 re-interpretation of Shi‘i history in political terms. It argues thatin the crisis in the relations between the West and Muslim societies twoalternative approaches are conceivable. Either it is assumed that Islam as areligion has little to do with the crisis and that this is the result of geo-politics,political interests, and economic competition among states (Graham 2010), oralternatively, that Islam is in fact the relevant issue at stake, in which case itcalls for a serious, scholarly discussion of Islam, primarily as a religion, andhence, a matter of theology and history.
Shi‘i Islam, Shi‘itology, Islamic Republic, Euro-AmericanAcademia
, PhD in Islamic Civilization from the University of Rome, is a researcherspecializing in the contemporary history of Shi‘i Islam and Iranian and Iraqi geopolitics. He served asexpert on Iran for the External Image of the European Union Project (2008-2009). His research papershave been published in edited volumes by Routledge and Edinburg University Press, and his articles andinterviews have appeared in Limes, Rivista di Intelligence, Left, and Liberal. He is also a contributor tothe Muslim Civilisations Abstract Project of the Aga Khan University. He is the author of Descendantsof the Family of the Prophet in Contemporary History: A Case Study, the Shi'i Religious Establishmentof Najaf, Iraq (2011, forthcoming).