Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs has launched “The Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs” which will engage in a multidisciplinary study of Shi’ism across nations, ethnicities, denominations, and other diverse contexts. Research will examine the intersection of Shi’ism and geopolitics while also branching out to include topics such as the Shi’a global diaspora, sectarian de-escalation, and diversity within Shi’ism itself. The corresponding website and new online publication, Visions, features analysis and commentary on the diverse aspects of Shi'ism on contemporary and historical issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The Project on Shi’ism and Global Affairs at the Weatherhead Center 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. In this context, Iran’s foreign policy in the region and its network of allies under the umbrella of the “Axis of Resistance” is a significant topic of study given its outsized role and influence in regional geopolitics. This is all the more salient given the ongoing nuclear standoff between Iran and the United States and the Iran-Saudi cold war. Beyond concrete regional effects, these emerging developments impact global politics—including international security, foreign policy concerns, and global energy markets. It also fosters broader theoretical debates on modernization, religion, and politics.
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 200 million individuals mainly spread across the Middle East, Central and South Asia, Africa, and the West. From the flourishing of global Shi’a diaspora communities in the West to the growth of highly interconnected state and nonstate actors in the Middle East to pressing intellectual debates in the Islamic world, the study of Shi’ism is of growing importance in world affairs.