The Market for Ayatollahs

Thursday, April 27, 2023
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.

  • David Patel
David Patel seminar

Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran – the two preeminent centers of Twelver Shi‘ite legal education and learning in the world – are typically described as being in competition with one another for ideological influence and to host the most widely followed ayatollahs.

This talk offers a different interpretation of Shi‘ite religious authority. The relationship between Najaf and Qom is analyzed as a duopoly, a market structure in which two interdependent firms dominate. These seminaries compete to prevent either from monopolizing Shi‘ite religious authority. But they also collude to 1) protect their market share by preventing the emergence of rival centers, and 2) preserve Shi‘ite clerics’ exclusive authority to extract religious rents from believers by suppressing doctrinal and popular movements that might challenge the Usuli school that dominates Twelver Shi‘ism today. This collusive behavior in the religious marketplace stifles innovation and explains why no Shi‘ite version of salafism has developed.

This talk is hosted in partnership with CDDRL's Program on Arab Reform and Democracy.


David Siddhartha Patel is a senior fellow at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. His research focuses on religious authority, social order, identity, and state-building in the contemporary Middle East. His first book, Order Out of Chaos: Islam, Information, and the Rise and Fall of Social Orders in Iraq (Cornell University Press), examines the role of mosques and clerical networks in generating order after state collapse and is based upon independent field research he conducted in Basra. Patel’s second book project, Defunct States of the Middle East, chronicles the more than two dozen territorial polities that disappeared from the map of the region after 1918: how they came to be, how they died, and how they are remembered today. Patel has also published articles or chapters on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood; ISIS; Iraqi politics; and the transnational spread of protests during the Arab Uprisings. Before joining the Crown Center, Patel was an assistant professor of government at Cornell University. Patel holds a BA in economics and political science from Duke University and a PhD in political science from Stanford University.

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.