Mapping the network of Shiʿi clerical relations in the Middle East: an analytical approach

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While Shiʿi clerics are among the most influential political actors in the Middle East today, there remains insufficient understanding of the network of relationships that links them together and shapes their politics. This article argues that to understand the politics of Shiʿi clerical elites in the contemporary Middle East requires an historical and sociological grasp of the internal dynamics of Shiʿi leadership, and how and why individual clerics emerge as the top Shiʿi leaders (marjaʿiyya). Little is known about these internal dynamics because there has been little if any systematic study of how individuals within the clerical elite move up through the clerical hierarchy, what shapes the legacy they bring with them, and how this legacy influences their politics. Without this knowledge, it is difficult to fully understand where, when, and how new leaders will arise, and what impact they are likely to have on the politics of the societies in which they are based, and beyond. To illuminate these dynamics and better understand the influence of this important group of actors, this article proposes an approach that aims to map the interconnected world of the Shiʿi clergy using quantitative network analysis. It argues that network analysis can complement existing qualitative studies by illuminating latent connections among the Shiʿi clergy; and, ultimately, can offer a more authoritative foundation for forecasting the identity and politics of future Shiʿi marjaʿiyya.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-64
Number of pages22
JournalReligion, State and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2024

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