Islam in Practice

Religious Beliefs in a Persian Village

By Reinhold Loeffler

Subjects: Islam
Paperback : 9780887066795, 312 pages, July 1988
Hardcover : 9780887066788, 312 pages, July 1988

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Table of contents



The Setting

The World Views

1. The Mullah: Uncommitted Formalism

2. The Former Landlord: Religion of Power

3. The Old Trader: Virtuoso Devotionalism

4. The Young Trader: Literal Zealotry

5. The Old Teacher: Idealistic Humanism

6. The Young Teacher: Rationalism and Orthodoxy

7. The Craftsman: Modernist Purism

8. The Representative of the People: Islamic Activism

9. The Prayer-Writer: The Problem of Efficacy

10. The Mystic: The Secrets of Control

11. The Old Hunter: Familiar of the Jinn

12. The Deep Believer: Belief as Knowledge

13. The Fundamentalist: Purist Orthodoxy

14. The Doubtful: Reason versus Tradition

15. The Calm: Grassroot Morality and Cosmic Harmony

16. The Pragmatist: Immanent Ritualism

17. The Mashhadi: Ritualism without Certainty

18. The Lower Peasant I: Low-Key Religiosity

19. The Lower Peasant II: Trustful Surrender to God

20. The Wealthy: Legitimization of Good Fortune

21. The Poor: Suppressed Revolt

The Effect of the Revolution

Theoretical Commentary

Toward an Epistemological Theory of Religion

A Synopsis of the Cases






This book is a unique study of Shi'a Islam as it lives in the minds and hearts of people in a Southwest Iranian village. The central segment of the text is presented in the form of edited interviews conducted in the course of anthropological fieldwork both before and after the Iranian revolution. The individuals, representing all major socio-economic and educational backgrounds, speak in their own words. Loeffler discovers that what people make of their religion is characterized by not only an unexpected diversity, but by an astounding sophistication. His format of presenting these views gives justice to the highly individualized character of religious worldviews. This feature has gone unrecognized in Islamic studies because the preferred methodology of working with composite and generalized accounts has made it impossible to detect.

In his conclusion, Loeffler formulates a new theory of religion based on the emerging paradigm of evolutionary epistemology and the dialectic between the individual and the religious system. This area of Islamic studies remains untouched by scholars preoccupied with historical texts and orthodox doctrines of established religious authorities.

Reinhold Loeffler is Professor Emeritus at Western Michigan University. Currently, he is head of the Department of Ethnology at the University of Heidelberg in West Germany.


"This is a well-argued and long overdue articulation of a situation already perceived intuitively by many observers of traditional communities professing a salvation religion—especially Islam—but generally obscured in the literature by the observer's preconceptions. Here, by contrast, Iranian peasants and settled tribesmen talk directly to us for the first time: their attitudes and Loeffler's conclusions are a salutory and necessary counter to all the recent studies of Iran's urban-based 'Islamic Revolution' and of 'Islam' as an artifact of the establishment clergy, or of Marxist revisionists, or of western and westernized scholars." — John R. Perry, University of Chicago