The Discursive Self: Rethinking the Relationship Between Autonomy and Tradition in Shi’i Thought
Razavian, Christopher Pooya
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I want to publish my dissertation.
The concept of autonomy underlies many other issues in moral and political philosophy. This dissertation states that contemporary debates within Shi’i thought view autonomy as individualistic, and that this individualism brings it into conflict with tradition. It then argues that autonomy is not equivalent to individualism, and argues for an understanding of autonomy that is socially and historically embed- ded and discursive. This makes it possible to rethink the relationship between autonomy and tradition. This rethinking is done through a method of reflective equilibrium, where various ideas from various fields are brought into a coherent whole. There are two phases to this rethinking. The first is in clarifying the concept of autonomy and the second is bringing this concept of autonomy and Shi’i tradition into equilibrium. The dissertation begins by stating that Shi’i thought has already made room for autonomy, but that the concept of autonomy that is dominant is individualistic. An understanding of autonomy as socially and historically embedded is defended. The second phase is to reconcile this embedded notion of autonomy with Shi’i tradition. It is argued that autonomy is important for both the internalisation of tradition and the formation of tradition. Empirical evidence is provided through positive psychology that shows that the most effective means of internalising a belief is through contexts that support autonomy. This understanding of internal- isation is brought into equilibrium with the Shi’i concept of forbidding wrong. It is argued that one of the conditions of forbidding wrong is the condition of efficacy. Approaches to forbidding wrong that support autonomy meet this condition, while those that deny autonomy generally do not. Finally, it is argued that autonomy should be considered within the process of ijtihād because it has an epistemic gain. Autonomous individuals gain a certain level of expertise through their life experiences that are necessary to be incorporated in the ijtiḥād.
University of Exeter Postgraduate Researcher Studentship
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies