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Studies 31 March, 2020

Iraqi Shi'is and the Pressure of Religious Identity

An Attempt to Determine the Meaning of Shi'i Identity

Haider Saeed

​Haider Saeed is a Researcher at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, and the Deputy Editor in Chief of Siyasat Arabia, which is published by the ACRPS. Saeed also sits on the Academic Board of the Program on the Democratic Transition in the Arab Region. Saeed earned his PhD in Linguistics from Baghdad’s Al Mustansiriya University, with a thesis titled “The Phenomenological Foundations of Arab Linguistics Theory: an Enquiry into the Origins”. Saeed’s writing focuses on intellectual history, critical theory and politics. Saeed has contributed to the “National Report on Human Development in Iraq” for the 2009 and 2014 editions. He is also the author of The Politics of the Symbol and the End to National Culture of Iraq (2009) and Literature and the Representation of the World (2002). In 2008, Saeed was the supervising author of a report on “The Status of Social Sciences in Iraqi Universities”. He led a separate research team which completed a report on “Islamic Civil Society in Iraq”, in 2010. Saeed also reviewed the 2002 Arabic translation of Edward Said, part of the Routledge Series on Critical Thinkers and written by Bill Ashcroft and Pal Ahluwalia.

​The concept of a "Shi’i identity" seems like a given that many take for granted; Shi’i s are one of the two major sects of the modern Islamic era, and much of the literature defines Islam as a tree with two branches, one Sunni and one Shi’i. But such reductionism is not and never has been appropriate to the subject. On the contrary, the nature of Shi’i identity is difficult to define. That is, what is the connection, or the bond, that allows individuals scattered around different parts of the world to feel the same? Subsequently, does being Shi’i amount to an expression of a belief? Or is it a political claim? Is it an affiliation to a religious doctrine? Is it a denomination? Or a large demographic group somehow tied together? Or something else altogether?

This paper was published in Almuntaqa, the peer-reviewed English-language journal dedicated to the social sciences and humanities and the full article is available for free to read or download on Jstor.

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