Remembering the infallible imams: narrative and memory in medieval Twelver Shi'ism
Pierce, Matthew Odes
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As the Twelver Shi'a coalesced into an increasingly distinct community between the 10th and 12th centuries CE, a new type of religious literature emerged. Writers began to collect narratives of the lives and deaths of the twelve infallible imams into single works. This study analyzes these early works, which have served as a template for similar Shi`i compilations written in the centuries since. The goal of this analysis is to shed light on how the historical narratives of a given community emerge in relationship to the ways in which that community construes religious meaning. I focus on five formative Arabic works from this period:  <italic>Ithbat al-wasiya</italic> attributed to al-Mas'udi; (d. 345/956);  <italic>Kitab al-irshad</italic> by al-Mufid (d. 413/1022);  <italic>Dala'il al-imama</italic> attributed to Ibn Jarir (d. early 5th/11th c.);  <italic>I'lam al-wara'</italic> by al-Tabrisi; (d. 548/1154); and  <italic>Manaqib Al Abi Talib</italic> by Ibn Shahrashub (d. 588/1192). As the first study to isolate and analyze collective biographies of the imams, this dissertation discusses unique structural and thematic patterns in these early works that were related to the concerns of the writers' community--patterns that helped produce generic expectations that remain in place to the present day. Grouping these texts into one genre allows us to better discern the religious vision upheld by this literature. My analysis begins with birth narratives, showing how these symbolic and fantastic stories highlight concrete and practical concerns of the writers. Second, I explore the importance of the imams' bodies, which function as sites of both intense devotion and great anxiety. The final two chapters explain the many and varied forms of betrayal suffered by the imams in relationship to the pervasive social grievances that are a subtext to the biographies. The memory of the imams cultivated in this literature and the emotional sensibilities projected through it provide insight into how systems of meaning are constructed. The Shi'i community used this literature to stake religious claims on the cosmic meaning and the eternal relevance of all aspects of the imams' lives, claims that made remembering their stories of critical importance.