Creating an Alternative umma: Clerical Authority and Religio-political Mobilisation in Transnational Shii Islam (AlterUmma)
AlterUmma is a five-year interdisciplinary project investigating the transformation of Shii Islam in the Middle East and Europe since the 1950s. It uses research in key archives, intellectual and oral history, ethnographic research and cultural studies approaches to examine the formation of modern Shii communal identities and the role Shii clerical authorities and their transnational networks have played in religio-political mobilisation.
Within the various denominations of Shii Islam, Twelver Shiis are the majority, being dominant in Iran and Iraq and constituting important minorities in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Despite Shii Muslims in the Middle East often being seen as marginalised minorities in different national contexts, they actually constitute up to half of the population in the entire region. Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 have shifted the region’s sectarian power dynamics and translated the demographic strength of Shii communities into geopolitical power.
The project focusses on Iran, Iraq and significant but unexplored diasporic links to Syria, Kuwait, Lebanon, Turkey and Britain. In response to the rise of modern nation-states in the Middle East, Shii clerical authorities resorted to a wide range of activities: (a) articulating intellectual responses to the ideologies underpinning modern Middle Eastern nation-states, (b) forming political parties and other platforms of socio-political activism and (c) using various forms of cultural production by systematising and promoting Shii ritual practices and utilising visual art, poetry and new media.
This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 724557).