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Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism (Library of Modern Religion) Paperback – March 31, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


"In a brief but masterful compression of insights Amanat reviews the dynamics of apocalyptic histories. On the positive side the anticipation of imminent divine judgment can be translated into a message of social justice, with individual choice replacing dogmas handed down by ancestors, tribes, or communities. Unlike many academics, Amanat is willing to venture into regions outside his specialty of Iranian studies, which makes his book particularly valuable, as it is informed by the knowledge—all too rare among Islamicists—that Islam is one variant in a cluster of religions rather than a subject to be treated on its own. Messianic expectations are fundamental to all the West Asian religions, articulating forces that are both dynamic and dangerous. Although these symbols, such as the Jamkaran shrine, are specific to Shiism, their appeal—not to mention their mobilizing power—is universal. As Amanat points out, apocalyptic movements have been motors of religious change throughout history." --Malise Rathuven, The New York Review of Books

"Abbas Amanat is among the brightest stars in the firmament of historians who have treated Shiite millenarian movements in depth.  He always avoids the easy temptation to dismiss them as outbursts of irrational fanaticism, instead patiently tracing their roots in social discontent and teasing out the significance of their often recondite writings.  Any historian can mine the British archives for imperial reactions to such popular manifestations.  But Amanat is among the few with the linguistic and historiographic skills to be able to offer us the inside story, full of drama, texture and immense local significance.  Those who wish to understand the Iranian Shiite tradition must come to terms with this essential aspect of it.  No better guide than the magisterial Amanat could be found." -- Juan R I Cole, Richard P Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan

"In these important essays, written in the two decades since the publication of his definitive study of the Babi movement, Resurrection and Renewal (1989), Abbas Amanat firmly places the apocalyptic aspects of Shi'ism on the map of modern scholarship, ending the book with a fascinating chapter on their current manifestations in post-revolutionary Iran."-- Saïd Amir Arjomand, Distinguished Service Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook; Director of the Stony Brook Institute for Global Studies; and President of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies

"Abbas Amanat’s penetrating and insightful studies of the inter-relationship of Shi'ism and messianism in modern Iran will set the agenda for future scholarship in this area. His conclusions are thoughtful, measured and compelling in equal measure. This is a book of mature scholarship, free of histrionics, and establishes a new benchmark for the study of apocalyptic theologies in modern Islam generally, and in Iranian Shi'ism in particular. It should be required reading for all who wish to understand the place of religion in Iranian politics and society and move beyond current facile and hackneyed media analyses."-- Robert Gleave, Professor of Arabic Studies, University of Exeter

"His approach throughout is judicious, accurate, and interesting; and no-one who is interested in Iran and Shi’ism, both today and in the past, will be disappointed with what is found in this book." --
Oliver Leaman, Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies

"Surely one of the leading modern commentaries on Iranian politics and its accompanying theories. The richness of the author’s text quite naturally gives rise to further issues and queries, and he raises the standard of discussion to a new level. This book is invaluable to anyone interested in the politics and theology of Shi-ism." -- Oliver Leaman, Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies

About the Author

Abbas Amanat is Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-din Shah Qajar and the Iranian Monarchy, 1851-1896 and of Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from the Ancient Middle East to Contemporary America, both published by I.B.Tauris.


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Product Details

  • Series: Library of Modern Religion (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: I. B. Tauris; 1 edition (March 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845119819
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845119812
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,139,086 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Kirk H Sowell on August 22, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Abbas Amanat's "Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism" is worth buying if you have a strong interest in Iranian apocalyptic or Islamic apocalyptic more broadly, as there aren't many books out there which provide significant background on the issue. I might also recommend it for those who simply have a strong interest in Iranian history, as this book covers some aspects of it otherwise brushed over.

I would not recommend it for anyone looking for an interesting or coherent book to read on Iran or Shia Islam. I found the chapters to vary in quality; some are quite good, others I'm not so sure. As Amanat explains in his preface, the articles were written for various purposes over 20 years, so part of the lack of coherence is inherent. Several of the articles also reflect an unfortunate tendency among some academics to present a subject matter through their own ideological lenses. The chapters dealing with contemporary Iran focus too much on explaining Iranian apocalyptic politics as a secularist liberal from Yale would view the subject, which undermines the author's credibility. There are also several digressions to criticize U.S. foreign policy which bear no relevance to the subject matter.

The best chapters, I thought, were these: chapter two on "The Resurgence of Apocalyptic in Modern Islam" (a broad survey), chapter three on the Nuqtavi movement, chapter four on "Meadow of the Martyrs" (dealing with a seminal piece of Shia literature from the Timurid period) and chapter five on the Babi movement. I also thought chapters seven and eight were useful for tracing the historical development of Shia clerical authority, although this material is not specific to apocalyptic issues and is well covered in other texts. I suggest Litvak's "Shi'i Scholars in 19th Century Iraq" and Nakash's "The Shi'is of Iraq" in this regard (you may want to see my reviews on those).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The information content of the book is good, but reading was a real problem. Not an easy reading at all. I finally did finish reading it all, but it took many days, and reading each page several times to follow-up what Mr. Amanat is trying to say.
I have heard Mr. Amanat on VOA TV, and he comes across very understandable and informed when he is speaking Farsi, but this book (in English) has not been written for an average, or even above average, person.
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