This book brings together a selection of papers first presented at the conference ʿContesting Shiʿism: Isna ‘Ashari and Ismaʿili Shiʿism in South Asia’ held at Royal Holloway, University of London, in September 2011. The articles included here were first published as ʿIsna ‘Ashari and Ismaʿili Shiʿism: From South Asia to the Indian Ocean’, a special issue of Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 24, 3 (2014).
The original conference was intended to address the fact that most scholarship on Shiʿi Islam has focused upon the supposed Shiʿi heartlands of Iran and Iraq, while academic interest in the South Asian Shiʿa has somewhat lagged behind by comparison. This is despite the region's large Shiʿi population, as well as the cultural importance that Shiʿi regimes, elites and populations have historically held across the subcontinent. Recent years, however, have seen the production of a wealth of important studies within this rapidly expanding field, and it is hoped that the papers included within this volume will contribute to these discussions, and introduce readers to many of the conversations in current progress.
These articles are authored by numerous active scholars working across a range of disciplines, including history, religious studies, anthropology and political science. They explore the historical and contemporary dynamics of various South Asian Shiʿi communities – both Isna ʿAshari and Ismaʿili – over the last two centuries, and focus upon a range of Shiʿi centres including Karachi, Lucknow, Bombay and Hyderabad, as well as South Asian Shiʿi diasporic communities in East Africa. Taken en masse, these essays demonstrate the enduring vitality of these communities, whose members have responded in a range of ways to the opportunities and challenges of the complex religious, social and political changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We hope that these essays together will further facilitate a greater recognition of the historical influence of Shiʿism within South Asian Islamic cultures and societies more broadly, and will help to establish South Asia at the centre, rather than the margins, of studies of the Shiʿa in the modern world.