The panel explores different facets of religious authority in Shiʿism, as they have emerged in the Persianate world at different points in history and issued from both politically-sanctioned and alternative readings of the founding texts.
The first paper puts the Usuli-Akhbari conflict in historical context, by re-assessing the Ketab-e naqz, the prominent 12th century treatise by ʿAbd al-Jalil Razi that is considered one of the first sources of the conflict. In the paper, the treatise is analysed in the context of the Bawandi espahbads efforts to overcome the rival Nizari Ismaʿili state of northern Iran, showing how the proto-Usuli approach to the notion of authority is used to buttress a religiopolitical agenda.
The second paper deals with the critical role which Tusi plays in the restructuring of the Ismaili doctrine.
The third paper will deal with authority and legitimacy at a time when the Usuli-Akhbari conflict had already been won by the Usilis, and the doctrine of the authority of the ‘most learned’ (aʿlam) of the Shiʿi jurisconsults was established. By analysing the approach of Iranian Sufism to this crucial matter from 18th to 20th centuries, the paper shows how the issue of spiritual and social leadership in Twelver Shiʿism is a highly problematic one, and how the mystical approach to the idea of velayat turns the hierarchical order of the spiritual and the social upside-down.
A fourth paper, added by the conference organizers, explores the survival of the shrine of Sheykh Safi al-Din after the fall of the Safavids.
The overall aim of the panel is to show how the very notion of authority has taken on different forms throughout history in Persia and the neighbouring regions, and how a closer analysis of these forms allows for a more nuanced appreciation of their consequences at the social level, which challenges established categories.