Roman Catholics and Shi'i Muslims

Prayer, Passion, and Politics

By James A. Bill, John Alden Williams

208 pp., 6 x 8.5, 4 illus., 1 table, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5499-0
    Published: August 2003
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7492-9
    Published: May 2002

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Awards & distinctions

A 2002 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

This timely work explores two influential religious traditions that might seem to have little in common: Twelver Shi'i Islam and Roman Catholicism. With the worldwide rise of religious fundamentalism, it is imperative that religious movements such as Christianity and Islam begin working harder to understand one another's history and beliefs. Myths and misunderstandings continue to prevail, and observers tend to focus on the differences between the two faith systems.

Without denying these differences, the authors of this book reveal a number of interesting linkages between Roman Catholicism and Twelver Shi'ism. They compare the histories of the two faiths, consider parallels between important figures in each, and highlight the doctrinal, structural, and sociopolitical similarities they share. Balanced in tone and carefully researched, the book helps explain the essence of both traditions while enriching our understanding of each.

There are an estimated 140 million Twelver Shi'is in the world today. The highest percentages live in Persian Gulf countries, including Iran and Iraq, and in Azerbaijan, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. Sizable numbers also inhabit Pakistan, India, and Turkey. The largest Christian denomination, Roman Catholicism is present across the globe, though its population of more than one billion people is concentrated in North and South America and in Europe.

About the Authors

James A. Bill is Reves Professor of International Studies and Government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His books include the award-winning The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations.
For more information about James A. Bill, visit the Author Page.

John Alden Williams, a historian of Islamic civilization and religion, is Kenan Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Humanities in Religion at the College of William and Mary. His books include The Word of Islam.
For more information about John Alden Williams, visit the Author Page.


"This readable and pedagogically useful comparative survey . . . is an essential library acquisition. . . . A must for advanced undergraduate and graduate courses in Islam and comparative religion."--Choice

"The comparison between the liberation theology of both traditions brings the discussion up to date, and is elegantly and usefully done. . . . Such a timely perspective could save the zealots on both sides, at least from themselves."--Times Literary Supplement

"A book as well written as it is timely. . . . Readers seeking to better understand Islam will be particularly rewarded by the second chapter's sensitive, succinct introduction to Shia. . . . A valuable resource for students and general readers alike."--Booklist

"Any attempt at comparing religions as disparate as Catholicism and Islam is praiseworthy but difficult. . . . Fortunately, with careful work and a fluid writing style, [Bill and Williams] succeed. . . . By pointing out similar theologies, polity, sacred intercessors, martyrdoms, and mysticism of these two faiths, the authors help us understand a much-misunderstood religion."--Library Journal

"Each chapter is loaded with stimulating gems, exploring, for example, the Prophet Muhammad's daughter Fatima as the Islamic counterpart to the Virgin Mary, or the Iranian Revolution as a 'classic' class-warfare revolt on par with the French and Russian Revolutions."--Publishers Weekly

"Remarkable. . . . A precise comparison of the striking similarities between Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam is indeed groundbreaking work. . . . A book that should be widely read and discussed. . . . [A] fascinating study. May it be granted the reception in popular as well as international academic circles that it richly deserves."--Middle East Policy