Creating an alternative umma – clerical authority and religio-political mobilisation in transnational Shii Islam

This project is led by Professor Oliver Scharbrodt and is funded by a European Research Council Consolidator Grant.

This interdisciplinary project investigates the transformation of Shii Islam in the Middle East and Europe since the 1950s. Specifically, it will examine the formation of modern Shii communal identities and the role clerical authorities and their transnational networks have played in the religio-political mobilisation of Shii communities.

The volatile political situation post-Arab Spring, the rise of militant radical Sunni movements such as ISIS and the sectarianisation of current geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East have intensified efforts of clerical authorities and their networks to forge distinct Shii communal identities and to conceive Shii Muslims as part of an alternative umma (Islamic community).

Focusing on Iran, Iraq and significant but unexplored diasporic and exilic connections to Syria, Kuwait and Britain, this project provides the first comparative study of the historical processes that led to the transnational religio-political mobilisation of Shii communities and to the current articulations and manifestations of modern Shii communal identities both in the Middle East and in Europe.

Oliver will be joined by four postdoctoral researchers and three PhD students over the course of the five-year project, which starts in January 2018.