About the Symposium

The Second International Symposium on Diversity and Unity in Transnational Shi’a Islam (May 9th - 13th, 2022) builds off a landmark symposium hosted at Harvard University in 2021 by the Weatherhead Center’s Project on Shi’ism & Global Affairs that focused on bringing together interdisciplinary voices from across various interpretations of Shi'a Islam in both contemporary and historical contexts. This forthcoming weeklong symposium will host five panels with leading scholars in the field who study the diversity of Shi’a thought and communities across denominational lines including Zaydi, Ismaili, Alevi, Alawite, Bektashi, and Twelver Ja’fari Islam, and more.

While individual works and scholars have focused on distinct Shi’a groups in specific countries or world regions, less attention has been paid to addressing diversity within Shi’a Islam from a comparative perspective or thinking about how to approach the subject of intra-Shi’a dialogue rather than interfaith dialogue more broadly. This is all the more important as the historical and contemporary legacy of Shi’a Islam is extraordinarily rich and truly global in reach, including impressive philosophical and theological contributions to Islamic thought and world culture.

Building off the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs’ 2021 symposium at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, this unique event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Ismaili Studies (IIS) as well as the Harvard Divinity School, Harvard’s Committee of the Study of Religion, Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), the South Asia Institute at Harvard, the Harvard Asia Center, the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at Harvard, and the Henry Luce Foundation. The symposium will continue larger dialogue on the historical relationship between Shi’a groups, intellectual and scholarly conversations between them, and contemporary areas of convergence and diversity that intersect with transnational Shi'a groups ranging from Twelver Ja’faris in Iran, Iraq and Pakistan, to Zaydis in the Arabian Peninsula, to Ismailis in Tajikistan and India, to Bektashi Shi’as in the Balkans, and to diverse Shi’a diaspora communities in the West and beyond. 

All sessions will be held online via Zoom. The symposium is free and open to the public.

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Institute for Ismaili StudiesHarvard Divinity SchoolCommittee of the Study of ReligionCenter for Middle Eastern Studies | South Asia Institute | Asia Center | Alwaleed Islamic Studies ProgramHenry Luce Foundation





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About the Project on Shi'ism and Global Affairs

The Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, which moved in July 2022 to Harvard Divinity School, undertakes advanced research on the multifaceted and diverse manifestations of Shi’ism in the contemporary world. The study of Shi’ism, religious mobilization, and the challenges of sectarian conflict is more pressing now than ever in modern history. From the war in Yemen, the civil strife in Syria, and the devastation in Iraq and beyond, a diverse array of ethnic and confessional Shi’a movements have emerged as a significant dynamic on the Middle Eastern geopolitical landscape witnessing a historic mobilization of Twelver, Zaydi, Alawi and other minority religious movements.

The Project on Shi'ism and Global Affairs encompasses an interdisciplinary approach with a focus on the history, sociology, theology, and politics of the diverse Shi’a communities and nations across the globe—who number over 220 million individuals mainly spread across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, Africa, and the West.

Funded in part through a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs conducts a rich content-based study of Shi’a thought and identity across transnational Shi’a contexts inclusive of a diversity of denominational (Twelver, Ismaili, Zaydi, Alawi, Alevi, and beyond) as well as diverse ethnic groups across the Middle East, South and Central Asia, Africa, and Shi’a diaspora communities across the globe. 

Find out more about the Project on Shi'ism and Global Affairs and its research.