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Title: The life and work of a Grand Ayatollah in historical context : the contribution of Ayatollah Ḥājj Āqā Ḥusayn Burūjirdī (1875-1961) to Shiʻi theology and to the development of the religious institution in 20th century Iran
Author: Ardalan, Mohammadjavad
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis intends to explore the development of the Shiʻi religious institution in 20th century Iran through a case study of the life and work of Grand Ayatollah Burūjirdī (1875-1961), who was the head of the Qum Seminary for seventeen years (1944-1961) and was the pre-eminent marjaʻ al-taqlīd of Iran from 1947 until his death. No serious academic study has been undertaken on Burūjirdī in English. This thesis draws on a range of primary sources (both written and oral), most of which are as yet unpublished and are used in this thesis for the first time. Burūjirdī’s own life illustrates the traditional career path of a senior cleric, passing through several stages of education in Burūjird, Isfahan and Najaf before establishing himself as the marjaʻ of his home city, a position he held until his move to Qum. The thesis discusses how Burūjirdī was recognised as the pre-eminent marjaʻ for the world’s Shiʻis and the sole marjaʻ for Iranian Shiʻis, although throughout the recent history of the marjaʻīyat, it has been normal for several individuals to hold this position simultaneously. The findings suggest that family and local ties as well as excellent education and intellectual achievement were central factors in Burūjirdī’s success. Burūjirdī’s contribution to the institutional and intellectual development of the Qum Seminary is also studied in this thesis. Particular attention is paid to questions such as the expansion of the seminary, the attraction of substantial funds for its administration, the increase in the seminary’s financial income and the establishment of Shiʻi centres in not just the Islamic world, but in Europe and North America. The thesis also discusses the reforms in the intellectual tradition of the clerical educational curriculum and their part in allowing the Qum Seminary to become the main Shiʻi religious school in the world. It argues that Burūjirdī’s management style, which relied on working closely with a small number of long-standing and trusted associates allowed him to lead the seminary effectively over a long period. The Qum Seminary’s role in Iranian politics is discussed, in particular, the numerous difficulties for Burūjirdī in dealing with the state as well as with Islamist parties in the country who also sought the support of the faithful. Some debates between Burūjirdī and other important Shiʻi clerics are discussed including fundamentalist and radical Shiʻis who held different views to him on matters such as Muḥammad Musaddiq’s government, the coup d’etat of 1953 and the ideological assassinations carried out by Fidāʼīyān-i Islām. The thesis proposes that the established pattern for his relationship with the state, which was mutually beneficial and helped the seminary to develop in a satisfactory way, constituted a middle ground between quietism and radical activism. In this it departs from the widespread view that Burūjirdī was a quietist, arguing that he did engage with political issues and actors, but only when so doing helped to reinforce the religious institution. The thesis also illuminates Burūjirdī’s policy regarding the common social problems of the Shiʻi community in their relations with other Muslims in the Islamic world as well as their clashes with the Baha’is inside Iran. In this too, Burūjirdī had his own approach, which was clear and focused, even if not a radical departure from previous approaches. He emphasised proximity: bringing Shi’is and Sunnis closer together, and in relation to the Baha’is he sought to minimise clashes and co-operate with the state. Overall, the thesis concludes that the nature of religious authority in Iran as well as the wider pattern of social relations were such that a study of the life and work of the pre-eminent marjaʻ al-taqlīd of the mid 20th Century provides a useful lens through which to analyse the development of the Qum seminary in this period.
Supervisor: Herzig, Edmund ; Katouzian, Homa Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: History