Everywhere is Karbala: Shia Ritual Politics in Iran and Beyond

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SSRN Working Paper Series


Politics and Government


Since 1979 The Iranian Revolution has sought to consolidate its power and exert its authority in a number of ways. Among these have been to to centralize, standardize, and politicize Ashura, the main religious holiday among Shia worldwide. The goal has been to politicize Ashura to make it a “red” practice of revolution akin to the socialist May Day rallies of old. But elsewhere this model has not been followed and Ayatollah Khamenei has been unable to project himself as a central religious figure through these events. These developments shed light on the broader question of whether there is an emerging “Shia Crescent” a religious and political bloc directed by Iran. There is little evidence that this is the case, in spite of Iranian attempts toward that end. Shi’ism is as diverse, diffuse, and decentralized as before 1979, limiting Iran's attempt to use religion as an extension of its foreign policy.