Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

Mohiaddin Mesbahi

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Maria del Mar Logrono Narbona

Third Advisor's Name

Thomas A. Breslin

Fourth Advisor's Name

Nicholas Onuf

Date of Defense



This dissertation explores the theological foundations of Shi‘a strategic cultures within the theoretical framework of Neo-Traditionalism and rule-oriented Constructivism. In terms of methodology, it uses historical analysis based on mainstream Muslim historiographies, and discourse analysis of major classical Shi‘a texts. The dissertation identifies three Shi‘a concepts of Shahādah, i.e. martyrdom, Taqīyyah –loosely translated to precautionary concealment– and Wilāyah/Walāyah as the theological foundations of various Shi‘a strategic cultures. While –mystical– Shahādah refers to “idealistic” metaphors in Shi‘a Islam based on the story of Shi‘a third Imām, Taqīyyah essentially refers to “commonsense counsel of caution.” Shahādah provided the Shi‘a community with a sense of metaphysical security through salvation when the community was deprived of prospects for social prosperity. It belittled physical pain and worldly defeat by emphasizing the ideal of fighting for justice. This also led to an essentially different understanding of Jihād in Shi‘a Islam compared to Sunnī Islam. In contrast to Shahādah, the doctrine of Taqīyyah was a proactive and pragmatic strategy chosen by Shi‘a minority and aimed at survival. The doctrine of Taqīyyah highly valued the collective and individual survival of Shi‘a Muslims. It socialized them with a cautious attitude towards politics and towards state. The Aristotelian prudence embedded in Taqīyyah eventually became Shi‘a modus vivendi for many centuries. Finally, the Shi‘a ontology of Wilāyah/Walāyah refers to the exoteric and esoteric aspects of the metaphysical structure of the world through which the Grace of God is bestowed upon men according to Shi‘a Islam. Wilāyah and Walāyah constituted one of the central points of distinction between Sunnī Islam and Shi‘a Islam. At the same time, they socialized Shi‘a Muslims with a sense of authority essential for the protection of a persecuted community. More importantly, however, they projected Shi‘a community as the protectors of the “heart of Islam.” This allowed the seemingly contradictory doctrines of Shahādah and Taqīyyah to coexist in Shi‘a strategic thinking; for a “special community” were believed to be allowed to resort to special measures for its protection.





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