Ethnogeography As a Theoretical Framework for Examining Generational Dynamics within Transnational Shia Networks

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 32 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Chris HEINHOLD, University of Chester, United Kingdom
The Twelver Shia community in London represent a minority within a minority. There are a very limited number of studies carried out with this community.

I aim to investigate how young Shia Muslims, involved with transnational religious networks, interact with and influence those transnational organisations. As part of my theoretical framework I have developed on ideas from the work of the philosopher of territorial rights, Avery Kolers. This paper will outline how I intend to use Kolers’ conception of ‘ethnogeography’ in the context of understanding complex diaspora Shia identity construction. It will draw on findings from ethnographic fieldwork carried out in London during Ashura, 2014 and 2015.

In the Academic Study of Religion there is a growing understanding of space as being dynamic and socially constructed. This spatial methodology is useful in understanding transnational religious networks as fluid and adaptable. Despite the advantages of this framework, the emphasis remains focused on individuals within groups rather than on the group or community as a cohesive unit.

Kolers’ conception of ethnogeography provides a means of defining group-right-claimants to specific geographical locations. Ethnogeography allows us to move from understanding the location of a single individual, towards understanding how a defined group views their social location in a given space. This is particularly relevant when questioning how young members of a religious community position themselves in a minority context.  

The formulation of a distinctly Shia identity among the second generation Shia in London impacts on how the group identifies with and influences transnational Shia organisations. Issues such as language, ethnicity, and sectarian position, all play a role in how young Shia formulate an understanding of their own identity in relation to the communities around them.  In this paper I will argue that Kolers’ conception of ethnogeography provides a unique insight into understanding such contestations.