What are the diverse and multiple ways in which Persian Shiism is integrated in people's lives, activities, and thoughts? Or, to frame the question giving more agency to individuals, what are the various ways that Persians and other Shias in Iran integrate Shiism into their lives? How do these ways of drawing on Shiism influence people's experiences?

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How do Shias integrate Shiism into their lives? This question made me stop for a second and re-read it. Since I am working with and within a milieu of "religious" Shias as well as so called "traditional" Shias  ("mashabi" versus "sonati"), I would have put the question differently: How do Iranians integrate their life into Shiism? 

Having heard and experienced the famous sentence "There is no country with more atheists than Iran", I still hold this comment of an interview partner true: "If you ask the most open-minded, modern, atheist intellectual in Iran to burn a Qoran, he/she will hesitate and think twice - afraid of the possible consequences for his/her own afterlife."

 

I could elaborate on religious Shias and how they live their everyday lives according to a canon of rules that coordinate time, space, actors, objects, activities and acts as well as events and even feelings in accordance to each other. They do not integrate Shiism into their lives. Shiism is their life. Though, I do not need to go that far in order to make my point. Sitting in a Café with young Iranians you will hear no word of God and religion. It is not very "progressive" or for that matter wise to talk about these topics seriously, especially because there are so many different viewpoints and unresolved issues that are associated the whole "religion situation". There is no public opinion and discussion other than the one that is tolerated and promoted by the government. Viewpoints and believes that diverge from this path are kept private within the family - the focal point of one's life. One does or does not agree with the family's stand point or life style. But one does not discuss these issues with others risking the (physical or social) security of the whole family or even ridicule him-/herself (-->"aberu").

 However, talking with the same young people face to face (or even entering their parents' home) one can look beyond the Ray-Ban glasses, Pink Floyd talk and loose Hijab and see that they are, indeed, very much concerned with the crunch question ("Gretchenfrage"). On a level that concerns the very basis of their life: What is a "good" relationship? What does a "good" person look like? What is the "right" behavior? How do I shape my life? What is at stake are values and they are constantly negotiated in relation to and on the basis of Shiism.

Two unmarried women with loud Pop music in their car, red nail polish and boyfriends constantly texting via smart phones, come home twice a day to wipe of all the make up and nail polish, put on their veils ("tshador") and pray ("namaz"). A young philosophy student, a fan of Nietzsche who's of the opinion that religion is Iranians' opium, meets me during Ramadan claiming to fast. "At least a couple of days - it won't hurt, right?!"  And two artists, an offbeat couple in their thirties struggling to hide their 5-years relationship in order to marry in an accepted way as soon as the man earns enough money to ask her parents for their permission. These are three, very common examples, and I haven't even started to talk about the complex and entangled biographies of these Iranians.

 Looking at how Shiism is integrated into life means asking where Shiism ends and where something else starts. This, however, is the wrong perspective in my point of view. The right question would be: Where and why do Shias identify practices and notions as specifically Shiite? In contrast to what? Resulting in a deeper reflection about people's and individual's (changing?) values as well as "new"/"modern" and "old"/"traditional" forms of expressing these values (within and outside a specifically religious framework). 

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