Cover image for Roman Catholics & Shiʻi Muslims : prayer, passion, & politics
Roman Catholics & Shiʻi Muslims : prayer, passion, & politics
Bill, James A.
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Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2002]

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x, 194 pages ; 23 cm
Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shiʻism -- The story of the people of the house -- Sacred actors and intercessors -- Redemptive suffering and martyrdom -- Catholic mystics and Islamic Sufis: the confluence of experience -- Law and state -- Authority, justice, and the modern polity.
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BP194.18 .C383 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This timely work explores two influential religious traditions that might seem to have little in common: Twelver Shi'i Islam and Roman Catholicism. With the worldwide rise of religious fundamentalism, it is imperative that religious movements such as Christianity and Islam begin working harder to understand one another's history and beliefs. Myths and misunderstandings continue to prevail, and observers tend to focus on the differences between the two faith systems.

Without denying these differences, the authors of this book reveal a number of interesting linkages between Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shi'ism. They compare the histories of the two faiths, consider parallels between important figures in each, and highlight the doctrinal, structural, and sociopolitical similarities they share. Balanced in tone and carefully researched, the book helps explain the essence of both traditions while enriching our understanding of each.

There are an estimated 140 million Twelver Shi'is in the world today. The highest percentages live in Persian Gulf countries, including Iran and Iraq, and in Azerbaijan, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Sizable numbers also inhabit Pakistan, India, and Turkey. The largest Christian denomination, Roman Catholicism is present across the globe, though its population of more than one billion people is concentrated in North and South America and in Europe.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

In a book as well written as it is timely, Bill and Williams--professors, respectively, of international relations and government, and of Islamic civilization and religion--focus on points of contact between Roman Catholicism and Shi'i Islam to inaugurate understanding of the larger traditions of which each is a part, to correct misperceptions about both traditions, and to be a resource for serious dialogue across religious boundaries. Readers seeking to better understand Islam will be particularly rewarded by the second chapter's sensitive, succinct introduction to Shia, amplified in subsequent chapters by the exploration of parallels between Jesus and the imam Husayn and between Mary and Sayyida Fatima, and by careful exposition of Shi'i approaches to martyrdom, mysticism, and politics. The book ends with a brief, effective overview of the comparative politics of religion and an argument for treating religion as "a defining aspect of human experience," the comparative study of which can contribute to better understanding "the human predicament." A valuable resource for students and general readers alike. --Steven Schroeder

Publisher's Weekly Review

The meeting of Muhammad Khatami, president of Shi'ite Iran, and the Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II in March 1999 symbolized to coauthors Bill and Williams (both professors at the College of William and Mary) the vast similarities between the two faiths these men represent. Going beyond the numerous similarities in doctrine, this uneven book quickly moves to a discussion of virtually identical practices, such as passion plays (for Roman Catholics commemorating Jesus' crucifixion and for Shi'ite Muslims enacting the gruesome murder of the Prophet's grandson at Karbala). Some readers may be surprised to learn of the positive influence and contribution of Muslim philosophers to their Catholic counterparts, and to discover incidents of beneficial cultural exchange. Each chapter is loaded with stimulating gems, exploring, for example, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima as the Islamic counterpart to the Virgin Mary, or the Iranian Revolution as a "classic" class-warfare revolt on par with the French and Russian Revolutions. The book's few faults are notable. The emphasis on Shi'ism inappropriately leaves Sunni Islam, practiced by 90% of the world's Muslims, looking inadequate, disorganized and warlike. Further, as the authors admit, a number of the similarities explored here are in fact correspondences between Roman Catholicism and Islam in its entirety, not just Shi'ism. The book's dry tone is unfortunate; often the authors note being personal witnesses to particular events of religious significance, yet provide a banal description. Finally, the theoretical and actual treatment of women in both faiths deserves greater discussion. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Any attempt at comparing religions as disparate as Catholicism and Islam is praiseworthy but difficult. Bill (Reves Professor of International Studies & Government, Coll. of William & Mary) and Williams (humanities in religion, emeritus, Coll. of William & Mary) are under no illusions regarding the challenge they face. Fortunately, with careful work and a fluid writing style, they succeed. The authors have chosen to explicate Twelver Shi'i Islam, one of the three branches of Shi'i Islam that honors the prophet Muhammad's family, rather than the predominant Sunnism, and they focus on the Twelver tradition rather than on Roman Catholicism. However, this angle makes sense because the authors are writing for a Western audience. By pointing out the similar theologies, polity, sacred intercessors, martyrdoms, and mysticism of these two faiths, the authors help us understand a much-misunderstood religion. In turn, this understanding will lead to our knowing ourselves better and realizing the common bonds of faith and charity that all universalistic religions confess. Recommended for academic libraries and readers who have a previous knowledge of Islam. Gary P. Gillum, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This readable and pedagogically useful comparative survey of "two civilizations in which the extraordinary is often the ordinary" is an essential library acquisition. A thumbnail historical sketch of the very divergent origins of Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shiism precedes a chapter devoted to a mini-hagiography of the principal members of the "people of the house." This lone noncomparative section summarizes the stories of all 12 imams as background for five comparative chapters. Bill (international studies and government) and Williams (emer.), both from the College of William and Mary, suggest parallels between Jesus and the proto-martyr Husayn; Mary and Husayn's mother, Fatima; and the roles of saintly persons and intercessors in both traditions. They propose very convincing parallels in chapters on martyrdom and redemptive suffering and on the relationships between religious law and civil life. The strongest chapter, "Authority, Justice, and the Modern Polity," makes contemporary religio-political associations. A less convincing chapter on mysticism would have benefited from Richard Gramlich's detailed work on Shii dervish orders. Roman Catholicism gets less attention generally; e.g., there is a glossary of Shii terms but none for Roman Catholic terminology. A must for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in Islam and comparative religion. Also recommended for general readers, researchers, and faculty. J. Renard Saint Louis University

Table of Contents

Note on Transliteration
Introduction: Two Great Religious Civilizations
1 Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shiism
2 The Story of the People of the House
3 Sacred Actors and Intercessors
4 Redemptive Suffering and Martyrdom
5 Catholic Mystics and Islamic Sufis: The Confluence of Experience
6 Law and the State
7 Authority, Justice, and the Modern Polity
Conclusion: The Comparative Politics of Religion
Glossary of Shii Terms
Select Bibliography