Alexander Reza Shams
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationChicago, U. of
Grant numberGr. 9876
Approve DateMay 8, 2019
Project TitleShams, Alexander (Chicago, U. of) "Building the “Islamic Modern”: Shia Shrines, Pilgrimage, and Urban Space in Post-Revolutionary Iran"
ALEXANDER SHAMS, then a graduate student at University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, was granted funding in May 2019 to aid research on “Building the “Islamic Modern”: Shia Shrines, Pilgrimage, and Urban Space in Post-Revolutionary Iran,” supervised by Dr. Hussein Ali Agrama. The research project focused on the modernization, renovation, and expansion of a network of Muslim shrines across the Middle East, primarily Iran and Iraq. Through ethnographic and archival research, the research explored how this project focused on sacred spaces was linked to broader political, social, economic, and religious changes unfolding across the region since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and in particular Iranian state efforts to construct a “modern Islamic civilization” and a nation of “revolutionary selves.” The research also examined the transnational pilgrimage networks focused on these shrines, which draw tens of millions of religious tourists every year. The research was conducted at several major and minor religious shrines of significance in particular to Shia Muslims due to their connection with the Prophet Muhammad’s descendants. It examined dynamics at the sites as well as how ongoing renovations re-narrated them. Based on interviews with a variety of stakeholders — including locals, devotees, pilgrims, architects, urban planners, and others — this research explored how the modernization project entailed gentrification and securitization of urban spaces. It situated changes within a broader regional context of militarization, examining how transformations in Iran and Iraq were tied to conflict unfolding regionally since the 2003 US invasions.