The Curriculum and channels of knowledge for contemporary Zaydi ‘ulama’ in the Yemeni highlands

By David B. Hollenberg
Submitted to Session P4302 (Yemen: From Zaydi Revivalism to Huthi Expansionism, 2016 Annual Meeting
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This paper considers two questions: what are the fields, genres, and specific works that comprise the curriculum of Zaydi ‘ulama’ in the Yemeni highlands for the current generation of scholars; and second, who were the most influential sources of knowledge; that is, the most prominent teachers, along with their scholarly lineages. To answer these questions, I turn to three sources. First, I will consult an unpublished set of some fifty brief autobiographies of contemporary Zaydi scholars compiled by the Imam Zaid bin Ali Cultural Foundation in 2008; second, I interviewed fourteen scholars between 2006 and 2008 on these questions; and third, I consider a spreadsheet with catalog information of some 6,000 manuscript codices that have been digitized and catalogued by the Imam Zaid bin Ali Cultural Foundation from 1995 to 2008. More specifically, I will compare the contents of the reports as stated by scholars themselves, with the manuscript record to see if the latter confirms, or departs from, the former. I will also trace the prominent teachers who were named by the scholars to determine who have been the most influential in their view.
As the Zaydi community is, as I write this abstract, under relentless saturation bombing from the Gulf Cooperation Council led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I consider this paper an example of “engaged scholarship,” a small attempt to bear witness to an embattled scholarly community under siege from an external threat.