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The Myth of Margins: Mapping Shi'i Historiography
Modern scholars of Islamic history tend to differentiate between Sunnī and Shī‘ī historical works. Leaving aside the general skepticism surrounding the entirety of early Muslim historiography, Shī‘ī texts are often dismissed as products of hagiography composed solely for polemical purposes. This attitude dates back to the seminal work of Orientalist scholars such as Julius Wellhausen and (especially) Leone Caetani. These (and other scholars) offered negative assessments of the reliability of Shī‘ī reports on a range of topics from the succession to the Prophet to the moral rectitude of the Umayyad dynasty. In most cases, any pro-‘Alid report was considered suspect and relegated to the status of polemic. My paper challenges the marginalization of Shī‘ī historical sources through a network analysis of a collection of Twelver Shī‘ī biographies (entitled Kitāb al-irshād) composed/compiled by one of the school’s seminal theologians (al-Shaykh al-Mufīd [d. 413/1022]). This relatively small work includes apparent references to a number of 3rd/9th century sources that are no longer extant but are cited by contemporaneous and near contemporaneous Sunnī sources. I am particularly interested in assessing the degree to which al-Mufīd (and other Shī‘ī authors) participated in a common and intertwined historical tradition. Were there any clear distinctions between Sunnī and Shī‘ī sources? Or were authors navigating a shared reservoir of interdependent historical reports? It may be possible to begin answering these kinds of questions through new digital tools that offer a wider and more comprehensive portrait of the historiographical tradition. By interrogating the interconnectedness of a large corpus of sources, these tools provide insight into the methods that informed the compilation of historical works. They also have the potential to shed light on the epistemological concerns that governed historical authorship. My paper attempts to harness this potential in an effort to elucidate the commonalities of Sunnī and Shī‘ī historical writing.
Geographic Area
All Middle East
Sub Area
7th-13th Centuries