Sociology of religion scholar Seyed Javad Miri made the remark in a recent forum titled “Closed Society, Open Society”. He talked about Allameh Mohammad Taqi Jafari’s understanding of modern world’s religiosity and identity. Excerpts from his speech are as follows:
Some believe that Allameh Jafari as a traditional Shia scholar could not have discussed closed society and open society because his view and knowledge of the world is traditions.
Allameh Jafari was born in 1923 and dies in 1998. In 1923 Iran was under the influence of the developments following the Constitutional Revolution. Allameh Jafari was a seminary student and spent the most important part of his youth in Najaf. He then settled in Tehran and wrote some books there. When we compare his works with other scholars of his time we see that none of the other scholars have systematically discussed Russian and other European literary figures like Victor Hugo in their works. How could Allameh Jafari reach such a point if he had not had such an understanding of the modern world?
He has a book titled Wujdan (conscience) in which he discussed the issue of conscience. He tries to make a distinction between law and ethics. (Russian novelist Fyodor) Dostoevsky has tried to reflect on this Kantian dualism and answer the question whether law alone can lead man to salvation. Dostoevsky says law can give order to the society but it is conscience than can make human beings humans. This is exactly what Allameh Jafari mentions. This shows us that his understanding of the relation between religion and modernity is different from that of other contemporary Shia scholars. This is a point to which little attention has been paid.
I mentioned this to say what the issue of closed religion and pen religion is in view of Allameh Jafari. When he talks about religious knowledge, he has in mind the seven realms and says when these realms come together, the result would be religious knowledge. In his view, religious knowledge is a very complex assortment that has outlooks to world traditions. So his understanding of what is religious and what is not is different from that of others.
Religious knowledge in Allameh Jafari’s view gives us the power to see religion in an open atmosphere. When one’s view of knowledge is formed in the seven realms, your view to other traditions will not be a closed one.
Interestingly, Allameh Jafari, as a Shia scholar with a Fiqhi background, did not try to categorize religious knowledge under a Fiqhi issue, but considered Fiqhi issue as a small part of the religious area.