What is it that makes members of Shi`i communities distinct from other communities? This is the question that lies at the heart of the contributions to this volume. They range across a number of diverse settings precisely to bring out those features of the social and political life of the Shi`a that may be recognisably Shi`i, but are also the outcome of their interactions with specific social contexts. However volatile forms of difference might be, they may well be found within socio-religious categories such as 'Shi'a' and produce seemingly irreconcilable interpretations of 'being Shi'i'. Some of the contributions indicate that in liberal democracies these are likely to affect practices of everyday living but do not carry as much political import as in autocracies fashioned by religious nationalism. While such forms of nationalism tend to discourage the creation of in-between spaces where religious and political categories are re-negotiated, armed conflict between the state and marginalised categories such as the Shi'a may nonetheless be temporarily replaced with reconciliation and patronage. Several authors investigate the degree to which Shi`i rituals reveal, endorse or challenge local, national and political identifications, and whether they are usefully analysed in terms of contestations over affective, physical and social spaces. For some of the authors, this raises the question of the effect upon the identity of the Shi`i subject. In order to answer these questions and to understand the markers, the reproduction and the effects of distinction, as well as the nature of relations with other communities, most of the chapters address the situation of Shi`i communities in non-Shi`i environments. This is the main focus of the essays brought together in this volume.
Charles Tripp is Professor of Politics and Gabriele vom Bruck is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology (The School of Oriental and African Studies -SOAS)