Theology of Shi‘ite Ziyārah: the Case for a Norm-Sensitive Approach to Religion

n Thursday 16th March 2017,  Al-Mahdi Institute held a Research seminar on the topic of; “Theology of Shi‘ite Ziyārah: the Case for a Norm-Sensitive Approach to Religion” conducted by Dr Jafar Morvarid of Ferdowsi University, Mashhad. The seminar was attended by AMI students, faculty and many interested members of the public.

An abstract of his research reads;

Ziyārah is a non-Hajj form of pilgrimage and an often understudied but increasingly integral part of Shi‘ite religious life where it operates as a rich system of ritual thought and practice. In fact, ziyārah is a manifestation of the cornerstone of Shi‘ite belief system and accommodates conventional notions of belief and practice, faith and ideology. For instance, in the large body of ziyārah texts several Shi‘ite doctrines are discernible, including monotheism and eschatology, prophethood and imamate, to purification and sacrifice, intercession and forgiveness. In light of an emic approach to the study of religion which is concerned with and can reflect ‘the view of one familiar with the system and who knows how to function within it himself’ (Pike, 1999), this paper seeks, in a norm-sensitive approach, to deal with the theological significance of ziyārah in Shi‘ite thought. Therefore, this study has twofold objectives. Firstly, we aim to examine the theological foundations underlying Shi‘ite ziyārah. Hence, the first phase of the present research applies textual analysis to review the existing evidence in ziyārah texts and intertextual sources. Then, we move on from a textual methodology to a more contextual one to perceive how Shi‘ite pilgrimage has been interpreted variously in different Shi‘ite discourses – including fideistic, political, existential, and spiritual. Built upon the possibility and authenticity of a norm-sensitive, new, theological understanding of the ziyārah phenomenon, this study aims secondly at returning to Shi‘ite tradition in an attempt to retrieve the opportunities for building a new theology of ziyārah. To fulfill the objectives, this paper draws upon later Wittgenstein’s theory of rule-guided language games as well as the critical caretaking role of theology today. This new theology can, and cares to, normatively meet contemporary requirements from religion. One major finding is that Shi‘ite tradition defines ziyārah in essence as a normative communicational phenomenon (between the Divine, the Imam, the Human); and since this trilogy is principled according to the basic doctrines of Shi‘ite belief system, a norm-sensitive approach can open up new and significant opportunities for understanding ziyārah in the face of contemporary spirituality

Having completed an MA in Philosophy and his PhD in Western Philosophy at the Iranian Institute of Philosophy (IRIP) in 2011, Dr Jafar Morvarid is currently an assistant professor of philosophy at Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Iran. As well as this he is the dean of the Department of Interfaith Dialogue at Al-Mustafa International University of Mashhad, where he operates different research and interfaith projects. Dr Jafar Morvarid is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at Al-Mahdi Institute.

To watch a video of his research seminar please click here

To view more photos from the seminar please click here



Dr Jafar Morvarid (Ferdowsi University, Mashhad)