Theology of Shi‘ite Ziyārah: the Case for a Norm-Sensitive Approach to Religion

Document Type : Research Paper


Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Faculty of Theology of Ferdowsi University of Mashhad


Ziyārah is a non-Hajj form of pilgrimage and an often understudied but increasingly integral part of Shi‘ite religious life where it operates as a rich system of ritual thought and practice. In light of an emic approach to the study of religion which is concerned with and can reflect ‘the view of one familiar with the system and who knows how to function within it himself’ (Pike, 1999), this paper seeks, in a norm-sensitive approach, to deal with the theological significance of ziyārah in Shi‘ite thought. Therefore, this study has twofold objectives. Firstly, we aim to examine the theological foundations underlying Shi‘ite ziyārah. Hence, the first phase of the present research applies textual analysis to review the existing evidence in ziyārah texts and intertextual sources. Then, we move on from a textual methodology to a more contextual one to perceive how Shi‘ite pilgrimage has been interpreted variously in different Shi‘ite discourses - including fideistic, political, existential, and spiritual. Built upon the possibility and authenticity of a norm-sensitive, new, theological understanding of the ziyārah phenomenon, this study aims secondly at returning to Shi‘ite tradition in an attempt to retrieve the opportunities for building a new theology of ziyārah.


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