Two Sociological Outlooks: Shi'ite-Sunni Imperatives on Ascription and Achievement Statuses, the Bases for Socio-Cultural and Religious Stratification

Two Sociological Outlooks: Shi'ite-Sunni Imperatives on Ascription and Achievement Statuses, the Bases for Socio-Cultural and Religious Stratification

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9731-7.ch003
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The sociological distinction between ascribed and achieved statuses and the typology of roles attached to them construct “status sets” that form the building blocks of class, social inequality and stratification – the most important components of social structure. Among other topics, this chapter addresses the correspondences between work, salvation, piety and economics, by discussing the complexity of meanings in Islam, and through a discourse on Islamic culture. Both theoretically and empirically, we argue that work and social mobility have advanced by placing emphasis on achieved status rather than ascribed status, as in the Protestant vision. The prevalent assumption is that everybody is born with equal capabilities that can be actualized by individual endeavors. Thus, from the Protestant viewpoint, achieved statuses, and the social roles attached to them to build up the social structure, are more individually than socially based. This statement, that reflects a long debate on the role of nature and nurture, does not mean the authors are underestimating societal resources by an emphasis on psychologism. Attempts are made to avoid both sociologism and psychologism especially where theological foundational concerns are built upon here and beyond. Nonetheless, since creation starts with motivation, there are individuals who are prone to uphold and judge their creations to achieve a status without expert information. That is the moment that societal auditioning in various forms hold individuals' estimation of their creation to the societal standards whether in terms of subjectivity of taste or normative demands of a status. By de-emphasizing ascribed status, the individual's endeavors to gain rewards, material or non-material in this world not only contribute to capital accumulation, or prestige, but also open the avenue for the individual who believes in salvation, or engagement in innovation and scientific experimentation. As functionalists suggest, the expectation of reward, failure, and specialization create social inequality – that is, the qualities such as a degree of religiosity that have nothing to do with the stratification of people. If the degree of religiosity, measured by frequency of attending church or mosque, is able to impact drastically upon societal stratification, then the more stratified societies with large gaps between social classes are able to close them harmoniously.
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Following the Shi’ite line of arguments that as long as a Muslim kingship defended Islam, it was the very rationale that the traditionalist Shi’ite ulama used to support the shah in Iran, as ‘the best man’ to run the affairs of his flock. He was known as the “shadow of God,” having ascertained that secular and religious people alike were able to coexist. The “shadow” conferred a quasi-attribution of sacredness (prestige) to the king, and a type of stratification of power that separated the ruler from the rest. In fact, the Shah of Iran was perceived as neither infallible nor impeccable as the title “shadow” may imply. The lack of these predispositions of infallibility and impeccability were instrumental in the challenges to the Shah’s monarchy.

It was Ayatollah Khomeini who turned the traditionalist concept of inaction upside down. Consequently, salvation by faith was appropriated for socio-political change – Shi’ite liberation theology, as it were, was born and Ali ibn Abu Talib (Ali), the first Shi’ite imam, as the best man following the Prophet’s paradigm, was reintroduced to the Iranian public. Finally, the Islamic jurists, or fuqaha (plural of faqih,) as a status group achieved a fresh socio-religious position as guardians of the flock. As a result, non-clerics and lay people were reduced to the level of a sub-class or a minority a manifestation of intended inequality. This reproduction of an old idea led to the bestowing of legal-theological charisma on the ruling personalities in Islamic jurisprudence from the Shi’ite point of view, with positive repercussions among the Sunni ulama who felt their standing was rehabilitated.

As a matter of fact, we can say that the Islamic regime in Iran reconstructed and revived a former reality for a society whose people had already adapted to or habituated to religion prior to the coming of Islam. In fact, the critics of absolutism of the regime in Iran included the Shi’ite clerical resistance to the king’s domination of one clerical imperatives. Such a resistance position was shown through their denouncing a political and religious stratification that put power into one hand against and over the people. Yet, the multi-faceted latent functions of revivalism and ideology were neither discussed nor foreseen when they crept into the Iranian Islamic socio-cultural structure. These phenomena had recently been observed effecting the transformation of Shi’ite Islam to as a political ideology undermined both the state and the mosque. The great irony of the Islamic revolution was that it inadvertently secularized the country more than the tyrannical shah had. By forcing religion on the people, it poisoned worship for many. Some had found their salvation in materialism. An Iranian economist noted that “You can’t shower a trillion dollars in oil money on a society in a decade and then expect it to stay pious and revolutionary.”

This condition was not unique to Iran. “The country is Islamic in much the same way that Italy is Catholic (The Economist, 2014). A similar phenomenon in a wider scope was captured by Weber’s keen eye in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber (1976) wrote about the inadvertent consequences of Protestant asceticism that started its historical development from the medieval beginnings of worldly asceticism to its dissolution into pure utilitarianism. At one time, asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, thus doing its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. The care for external goods that had lain on the shoulder of the “saints like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment,” Weber wrote, became an iron cage.

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