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Reason, Deliberation, and Democracy in Divided Societies: Perspectives from the Jafari School of Thought

The 25-page article, Reason, Deliberation, and Democracy in Divided Societies: Perspectives from the Jafari School of Thought (2017), was written by Nicolas Pirsoul, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the article, Pirsoul talks about how the Jafari school of thought promotes deliberative democracy and provides an opportunity to promote peace in a deeply divided society. Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

Jensen Sass and John Dryzek suggest that practices of deliberative democracy are universal political practices and happen in unlikely socio-cultural settings such as the one marked by the “Islamic Revival” in Egypt. They argue that “culture meets deliberation where publicly accessible meanings, symbols, and norms shape the way political actors engage one another in discourse” (Sass & Dryzek, 2014, p. 21). Here, I take their argument one step further and focus on these symbols and norms. Instead of focusing my attention on the deliberative process arising from civil society’s interpretations and disagreements over the theological and social significance of Islamic texts in a contemporary environment, I turn my attention towards the motivational basis for deliberative practices as they appear from within Islamic sources themselves, namely the Koran and Ahadith (sing. Hadith).

More specifically, I will focus my attention on Shia narrations embedded within the Jafari school of thought, also known as the Twelver Shias. There are three main reasons for narrowing down my investigation to that particular group. First, Twelver Shias represent a minority in the West (as migrants) and in the Islamic World (they represent 10 to 15 percent of the total Muslim population) (Nasr, 2007, p. 34). Second, they have suffered and still suffer from harsh persecutions at the hands of Sunni rulers ever since the Ummah split shortly after Muhammad’s death. These first two reasons are relevant if one wants to explore the significance of deliberative democracy in deeply divided societies. Indeed, as I will show, a deliberative system allows previously marginalized minorities to participate in the political decisionmaking process as equal members and to guarantee the survival of their identities (Wheatley, 2003). I will also argue that because of its emphasis on reasonable exchanges of ideas, deliberative democracy fosters feelings of mutual respect between groups while other models, such as consociational democracy, tend to erect walls between communities and reinforce the problem it is supposed to solve. Third, ever since the “occultation” of the Twelfth Imam (section I), Jafaris have experienced a crisis of political legitimacy as no infallible leader, and therefore no legitimate authority, is available to lead the Islamic community. This third factor is, I argue, conducive to political creativity (section II) and is the cornerstone of this article. By political creativity I mean the capacity to develop an indigenous political model based on Islamic principles relevant to a modern pluralist life.

This article therefore represents an attempt to assert the possibility of developing democratic indigenous political models rooted within Shia theology and history which depart radically from the political model developed by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. This attempt is therefore in line with the political theories developed by clerics, such as Mohsen Kadivar (2011), who argue from a theological point of view that Islam, democracy and pluralism are not antithetical.

More specifically, I want to show that Shia Islam does not need to be liberalized or democratized from the outside, but instead that Shia theology itself offers a strong basis for deliberative practices. I therefore highlight certain aspects of deliberative democracy and Shia theology to show affinities between the two sets of ideas without trying to force one particular model onto the other since part of the deliberative process is to let the political actors decide for themselves what political arrangements they want to adopt. This article therefore aims to create a dialogue between two sets of traditions.

Download the full article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol13/iss1/art6/

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