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Embodied Imamate: Mapping the Development of the Early Shiʿi Community 700-900 CE, directed by Ed Hayes

Project description

Although Shiʿi claims emerged early in Islamic history, Imami Shiʿism took a couple of centuries to crystallise. Scholarship on Shiʿism has tended to focus on doctrine, but hitherto there has been little research into institutions and social networks. This project aims to fill this gap, addressing the question as to how, when and why a distinctive Imami Shiʿi Imamate emerged and developed as a set of institutions. The ImBod project frames the Imamate as a set of social interactions between the Imams and the community who venerated them within the broader networks of the early Islamic empire. Members of the ImBod project team work on particular thematic spheres in order to identify and study the networks, actors, institutions, spaces, objects and processes through which the Imamate was mediated and performed within the Imami Shiʿi community and beyond. The project brings together a broad array of sources (material, documentary and textual) and approaches, both traditional close-reading and computational analysis in order to approach the vast, challenging textual corpus of Shiʿi and non-Shiʿi texts that bear on the development of the Imamate.


3 positions will be available within the Embodied Imamate team.

  • PhD (subproject 1): 4 years, full-time. Apply here.
  • Postdoctoral researcher (subproject 2): 3 years, full-time. Apply here.
  • Postdoctoral researcher (subproject 3): 2 years, full time. Apply here.

Full details of the positions and hiring process are available on the Leiden University website. Deadline for submission of applications is September 15, 2023. Start dates are flexible, starting February 2024.


Project 1: The household of the Imams

This project will involve conducting research related to the following questions: how were Imams and the Imamate produced in the context of the Imam’s household and the networks of family? How did householders and close family members mediate the image and influence of Imamate to the community beyond? The candidate for this position will therefore have to work to develop a specific project topic within this broad area. The candidate will look at two distinct bodies of literature in particular: the genealogies in which the names and relations between the members of the extended families of ʿAlids were included; and hagiographical reports in which the details of the lives of the Imams were narrated, often via purported eyewitnesses from within the household of the Imams. It is anticipated that key analytical frameworks will be those of kinship, gender and purity. The Imamic household was a key location for the production of (the image of) the Imami Shiʿi Imamate. The Imams were not only spiritual leaders, but also human bodies embedded in processes of birth, procreation, death and succession. These processes were also intrinsically implicated in the process of producing new Imams. This project will involve identifying key sites and rituals for production of Imamate in the intimate spaces of the household: such as procreation, birth, education, death and the designation of a successor. Close attention will be paid to the agency of women close to the Imams, and the ways in which the representations of the Imam are embedded in the historical institutions of family, kinship, concubinage, the legal institutions of marriage and slavery, the purity rituals which governed key aspects of household praxis, and legal and customary institutions governing the procreation of children.

Project 2: Mapping the Imami Community and its Power-Brokers

The aim of this subproject will be to map out the networks of material influence and knowledge-transmission through which the Imamate was mediated to the community. In particular the aim will be to identify and analyse the role of powerbrokers within the Imami the community. Tools will therefore be developed to analyse the networks of Imamate and community. The candidate for this position will therefore have to work to develop a specific project topic within this broad area. Possible questions to address are the shift of Imami Shiʿi centres between Iraq, Iran and other geographical areas; the part played in Imamic influence by local dynasties of scholars; the role of Arab migration versus non-Arab conversion to Shiʿi Islam in the spread of the community; and the process of institutionalisation of authority in particular geographical centres like Qumm and Nishapur. The candidate will be expected to engage with three main textual corpora in particular: bio-bibliographical texts (rijāl and fihrist works); genealogical literature (nasabansāb); and hadith works with their chains of transmitter names (isnād). Both Shiʿi and non-Shiʿi literature should be addressed.

Project 3:The material and spatial performance of Imamate and Imami community

Religious communities do not subsist on doctrines alone but must be instantiated ritually and materially. Histories of pre-Fatimid Shiʿism neglect material culture. Sources are scanty, but they do exist and must be collected and considered. The research in this subproject will address the evidence of art, architecture, inscriptions, papyri, coins and other untapped sources of material culture that relate to pro-ʿAlid and Shiʿi identity, as well as textual evidence relating to material practices such as prayer, almsgiving and pilgrimage. These sources will be viewed through the framework of the ritual performance of community and the representation of Imamic charisma in spaces and objects. The candidate for this project will investigate issues such as the role played by space, architecture and material objects in creating the life of the Imami community. The candidate for this position will have to work to develop a specific project topic within this broad area. Questions such as the following should be addressed: What were the locations in which Imamate, community and communal identity were performed? How was the Imamate performed within the spatial geography of the Shiʿi community. How was the Imamate was represented through the circulation of objects such as letters, seals and coins that provided physical links to a distant Imam. The candidate for this project will be required to master several domains of knowledge: textual sources relating to material and spatial aspects of Imamate and Imami community; material culture from the period of the Imams; and material culture from later (Buyid and Saljuq) periods which might help ask and answer questions about the period of the Imamate.