Call for Papers: Reason and Esotericism in Shi‘i Islam


Abstract Deadline: December 15, 2013

Conference: April 4, 2014   |   University of Chicago

The Shi‘i Studies Group at the University of Chicago is hosting a one-day symposium on Shi’i Studies, “Reason and Esotericism in Shi‘i Islam”. This will be part of a regular series bringing together senior and early-career scholars who work in the field of Shi‘i studies from all disciplinary perspectives and periods.

The terms ‘reason’ or ‘rationality’ and ‘esotericism’ are often placed into opposition in studies of Islam, and Shi‘i Islam in particular. However this dichotomy is far from simple. Reason does not necessarily need to be in a relationship of conflict with esotericism. Both of these terms have a variety of meanings and applications that greatly alter the ways in which the relationship might operate. They have significance for hermeutics, legal thinking, theology and doctrine, and also for social and political structures to the extent that they imply secretive and initiatory practices, or open debate and polemic. Associated terms in Arabic and Persian do not map cleanly onto these English terms, though many key terms are implicated such as bāṭin, ẓāhir, ‘aql, ‘ilm, ta’wīl, taqiyya, etc.

This symposium is intended to study some of these relations in both modern and pre-modern periods.

Papers submitted can deal with any branch of Shi‘ism, or Shi’i-related movement, and treat any topic related to the overarching theme of “Reason and Esotericism in Shi‘i Islam”, including (but not limited to):

  • exegesis and the hermeneutics of reason and esotericism
  • magic and the occult
  • polemics
  • epistemology
  • legal constructions of rational and non-rational
  • secrecy and initiation

    Particular attention will be paid to submissions which draw a connection between the intellectual and textual traditions and political and sociological developments.

    Please send abstracts, maximum 350 words, to, with “REASON / ESOTERICISM ABSTRACT” in the subject line.

    Deadline for final submission of papers: March 21, 2014

    Date of symposium: April 4, 2014

    Funding and support for this symposium is provided by Norman Wait Harris Fund, the Divinity School, the Division of the Humanities, the Franke Institute for the Humanities, the Council for Advanced Studies workshops Majlis and MEHAT, the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.

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