Interest in Shi'i Islam is running at unprecedented levels. International tensions over Iran, where the largest number of Shi'i Muslims live, as well as the political resurgence of the Shi'i in Iraq and Lebanon, have created an urgent need to understand the background, beliefs and motivations of this dynamic vision of Islam. Abbas Amanat is one of the leading scholars of Shi'ism. And in this powerful book, a showcase for some of his most influential writing in the field, he addresses the colourful and diverse history of Shi' Islam in both premodern and contemporary times.Focusing specifically on the importance of apocalypticism in the development of modern Shi'i theology, he shows how an immersion in messianic ideas has shaped the conservative character of much Shi'i thinking, and has prevented it from taking a more progressive course. Tracing the continuity of apocalyptic trends from the Middle Ages to the present, Amanat addresses such topics as the early influence on Shi'ism of Zoroastrianism; manifestations of apocalyptic ideology during the Iranian Revolution of 1979; and the rise of the Shi'i clerical establishment during the 19th and 20th centuries.
His book will be an essential resource for students and scholars of both religious studies and Middle Eastern history.
"In a brief but masterful compression of insights Amanat reviews the dynamics of apocalyptic histories. On the positive side the anticipation of imminent divine judgment can be translated into a message of social justice, with individual choice replacing dogmas handed down by ancestors, tribes, or communities. Unlike many academics, Amanat is willing to venture into regions outside his specialty of Iranian studies, which makes his book particularly valuable, as it is informed by the knowledge—all too rare among Islamicists—that Islam is one variant in a cluster of religions rather than a subject to be treated on its own. Messianic expectations are fundamental to all the West Asian religions, articulating forces that are both dynamic and dangerous. Although these symbols, such as the Jamkaran shrine, are specific to Shiism, their appeal—not to mention their mobilizing power—is universal. As Amanat points out, apocalyptic movements have been motors of religious change throughout history." --Malise Rathuven, The New York Review of Books
"Abbas Amanat is among the brightest stars in the firmament of historians who have treated Shiite millenarian movements in depth. He always avoids the easy temptation to dismiss them as outbursts of irrational fanaticism, instead patiently tracing their roots in social discontent and teasing out the significance of their often recondite writings. Any historian can mine the British archives for imperial reactions to such popular manifestations. But Amanat is among the few with the linguistic and historiographic skills to be able to offer us the inside story, full of drama, texture and immense local significance. Those who wish to understand the Iranian Shiite tradition must come to terms with this essential aspect of it. No better guide than the magisterial Amanat could be found." -- Juan R I Cole, Richard P Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan
"In these important essays, written in the two decades since the publication of his definitive study of the Babi movement, Resurrection and Renewal (1989), Abbas Amanat firmly places the apocalyptic aspects of Shi'ism on the map of modern scholarship, ending the book with a fascinating chapter on their current manifestations in post-revolutionary Iran."-- Saïd Amir Arjomand, Distinguished Service Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook; Director of the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies; and President of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies
"Abbas Amanat’s penetrating and insightful studies of the inter-relationship of Shi'ism and messianism in modern Iran will set the agenda for future scholarship in this area. His conclusions are thoughtful, measured and compelling in equal measure. This is a book of mature scholarship, free of histrionics, and establishes a new benchmark for the study of apocalyptic theologies in modern Islam generally, and in Iranian Shi'ism in particular. It should be required reading for all who wish to understand the place of religion in Iranian politics and society and move beyond current facile and hackneyed media analyses."-- Robert Gleave, Professor of Arabic Studies, University of Exeter
"His approach throughout is judicious, accurate, and interesting; and no-one who is interested in Iran and Shi’ism, both today and in the past, will be disappointed with what is found in this book." -- Oliver Leaman, Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies
"Surely one of the leading modern commentaries on Iranian politics and its accompanying theories. The richness of the author’s text quite naturally gives rise to further issues and queries, and he raises the standard of discussion to a new level. This book is invaluable to anyone interested in the politics and theology of Shi-ism." -- Oliver Leaman, Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies