REL276: Sunni & Shi’ite Islam
Syllabus: Fall 2014
This course is primarily an overview of the doctrines, thought, spirituality, history and diversity of Shi’ite Islam. Our study will complement RELI 272 (“Introduction to Islam”) that focuses primarily on the Sunni Islamic tradition. Though an introduction to Shi’ite Islam primarily, we will considerably touch upon the convergences and divergences between Sunni and Shi’ite interpretations of Islam. Part I will cover the origins of the Sunni-Shi’ite split in the early history of Islam. This background in history is crucial to the appreciation of the Sunni and Shi’ite points of view and major points of contention. In Part II we will turn to the Shi’ite belief-system and sectarian divisions within Shiite Islam. Part III then examines the religious life, piety, material culture and esoteric currents within Shiism. Part IV reviews the history of Shiism with special emphases on a) political and intellectual developments within Iran since the rise of the Safavid Empire at the turn of the 16th century till the Iranian Revolution, and b) development of the clerical authority of religious figures called “Ayatullah”. Based on the information learned in the first four parts, Part V will be the synthesis of our study where we will examine the major themes within the Sunni-Shi’ite polemical literature, ecumenical possibilities and initiatives in recent times, the role of Sufism in mediating the Sunni-Shi’ite divide, the relevance of our study for the present-day sectarian conflicts in the Muslim world and other relevant issues. These topics will be covered through collaborative group projects that will be shared with the class through teaching presentations.