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The World of Shi’i Islam: History, Art and Culture


Admission requirements

This course is open to:

  • Students of the BA programme Midden-Oostenstudies / Islamstudies;

  • Students of the other tracks of the BA programme Midden-Oostenstudies who have been admitted, by the Board of Examiners, to the Shadowprogramme;

  • Students of the minor Islam: Religion and Society.


This course offers an introduction into the history, thought, art and culture of the Shi’i world. Shi’i Islam not only plays a large role in present-day Iran and Iraq, but also in many other regions of the world, in Asia and the Middle East: for example in Lebanon, India, Yemen, Pakistan, Bahrein, Syria and Turkey. Today, Shi’i communities can be found around the globe. In this course, various aspects and characteristics of Shi’i Islam in a broad geographical framework will be examined. Past and present are closely connected in the world of the Shi’a. Insight into the long history of the Shi’a in the Islamic world contributes to a better understanding of the position of Shi’i Islam in all its varieties today. We will look for example at developments in Iran, which has been a Twelver-Shi’i state since the 16th century, and where the Shi’a is closely interwoven with politics, especially since the revolution of 1979. We will explore the global features of contemporary Isma’ili Shi’ism, which can boast a fascinating history that leads us for example to the fortresses of the Assassins in Syria and Iran. We will see how one of the least well-known branches of the Shi’a, the Zaydiyya, is related to the Houthi movement in present-day Yemen. The focus of the course is on the historical background and doctrines of the three branches of the Shi’a today, and in particular, the largest Shi’a denomination, the Twelvers. There will be ample attention for the material culture of Shi’i Islam, as exemplified by the grand pilgrimage complexes scattered around the Islamic world and the rich manuscript culture connected to Shi’i textual traditions, in Arabic, Persian and other languages. Material culture is connected in many cases to devotional practices, such as the great variety of Muharram rituals among Shi’i communities around the globe. The performative aspect of Shi’i Islam, of which a famous example is the ritual theatre or ta’ziya in commemoration of the events in Karbala in 680 CE, will be covered too in this course. Participants will be able to focus on their own area of interest within the Shi’i world in the assignments.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge and comprehension of Shi’ism and the Shi’i world from a multidisciplinary perspective.

  • The ability to interpret and critically reflect on academic writings regarding the Shi’a.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method



The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the following:

Examination Weighing
Short written assignments 40%
Midterm exam 20%
Final paper 40%



Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Reading materials will be announced at the beginning of the course or distributed during the course.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.
General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office Herta Mohr


Please note that the additional course information is an integral part of this course description.