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