thesis proposals help
The Shia Husseiniyya rituals are a widely studied topic within Islam studies, but the specifics of the rituals have largely focused on Syria or Iran. While there is significant literature on the passion plays (ta’ziyeh) of Iran, there is nearly no work about two specific aspects of the rituals: the liturgical orators known as radoods, and the processional chants known as radat.
These two aspects of Husseiniyya rituals are unique because of their banality and, unlike other aspects such as ritualized head cutting (tatbir), there are few written controversies about it. The lack of written work hides their importance: both are oral traditions conducted in the local vernacular that allow the Karbalaeis to think of themselves in a new light. In other words, my thesis is: The husseiniyya rituals conducted by the people of Karbala create a permanent state of pilgrimage, allowing the people of Karbala to straddle the political and the religious.
The implication is that these rituals provide a new place to understand political resistance and conceptualization of the self. Through the usage of the vernacular in rituals, the Karbalaeis can bridge aspects of nationalism, political inclusion, and piety.
This work allows for a deeper understanding of Shi’a identity within Iraq, which is often drowned in the acid vat of sectarianism discussions. I plan on writing against sectarian dialogues that misrepresent the Shia laity as automatons. I also want to push the idea of pilgrimage as a mode of being that takes people out of their traditional environments to this idea that there are people who consistently live in what we would consider a pilgrimage environment. Furthermore, this research attempts to be the first English work that records the institutions that organize rituals within Karbala for Karbalaeis.
IRB is not required for this project, as the research is conducted about the rituals and institutions, not about the specific individuals per 45 CFR 46.102.
Survey of Related Work
To the best of my knowledge, the only English word that references radoods is a master’s thesis written by Faraj Hattab Hamdan. Hamdan only briefly references the radoods in their act but did not conduct interviews with radoods or attempt to peak into their history. I have not been able to find English work about radat at all, and only scant references in the Arabic literature.
Previous books that reconceptualize pilgrimage as a permanent state are Pilgrims Until we Die, and books about Taz’yeh. The methods from Pilgrims until we die are useful, and I plan on conducting interviews in similar fashions. However, they do not discuss the history of institutions and neighborhoods, which is one thing I plan on writing about.
Additional work has been done by Edith Szanto about the Shia rituals in Damascus, and other prior work has been conducted on Shia rituals in general. However, all these studies have been conducted in situations outside of Iraq, and are focused on different shrines.
There exists significant Arabic literature on Husseiniyya rituals and the history of Karbala, which I plan on tapping into as needed. I have yet to conduct a thorough Arabic literature review, and it is possibly outside the scope of a master’s thesis.
Summary of Prior Completed Work
Previous fieldwork in Karbala has already been conducted between August 17-20, 2021, March 19-30th, 2022, and July 3rd to September 14th, 2022. At these times, I visited the shrines nearly every day during the daytime and nighttime and often slept at the shrine, while chatting with pilgrims and the members of the shrine or the ‘ulema. Additional fieldwork outside of these dates was conducted in Najaf at the Shrine of Imam Ali and Wadi Salaam and in Kathimiya at the Shrine of Imam al-Kathim. Furthermore, I walked the pilgrimage from Najaf to Karbala between September 11th and September 14th, conducting interviews with pilgrims who largely hailed from Iran.
The bulk of the reading has already been completed, and interviews have already been conducted with radoods, religious elders, institutional representatives, and Karbala residents.
I have an archive of photographs, videos, and recordings of rituals in addition to recorded interviews. These archives have been largely translated by me, with the translations being validated by Iraqi roommates. I believe that the fieldwork has been completed, and the only remaining work is to write, edit, and fact-check the thesis itself.
Remaining Research Challenges
I believe that a few remaining challenges exist for this research, as the fieldwork is primarily completed. Given that I am currently maintaining residencies in Karbala, Baghdad, and Erbil, I also believe that any further fieldwork required will be relatively easy to conduct. The remaining research challenges is translating the Arabic literature, which is a project that will outlast the duration of the thesis.