Much ink has been spilled in the modern period in Shiʿi circles and beyond about the true nature of the Imām and his cosmic role - this debate is often around what since the late 19th century has been called walāya takwīnīya or the authority and control of the Imām over the cosmos and the objects within it. I am not particularly interested in the more normative question but what seems clear to me is that within Imāmology there has always been historically somewhat of a spectrum. Hence I have used the term 'maximalist imamology' to describe a conception of 'divine humanity' that still locates itself within the Twelver Shiʿi tradition without falling into the (contested) category of exaggeration or ghulūw and hence into Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī or other conceptions of the Imām.
'Maximalist Imamology' therefore renders this notion that the Imam has complete authority of the cosmos as the true mediating heir of the Prophet. Increasingly, as we begin to engage with Avicenna's prophetology we realise that the philosophical defence of a perfect mediating human whose very existence not only ensures the correct social, ethical and political order of the cosmos but also entails the metaphysical order of reality can easily be extended into Imamology. In the Twelver ḥadīth corpus, this is through the narrations on the Imāms as the divine names and as those who manifest the divine names and divine attributes. Maximalist Imamology takes up this theme and then develops a number of positions on the origins of the cosmos, its sustenance and its unfolding eschatology and soteriology.
Therefore Maximalist Imāmology constitutes a series of historically articulated and developed positions on the prehistory, history, and coming messianic moment of the Imām. The first of these includes the idea of the Imam in the world of spirits and motes (ʿālam al-arwāḥ, ʿālam al-dharr), and the third of these includes the role of the Imām in the apocalyptic return (al-rajʿa, al-karra) and the eschaton.
To this end, I have now written three articles on the historical development of this Maximalist Imamology:
1) ‘Seeking the Face of God: The Safawid Ḥikmat Tradition’s conceptualisation of walāya takwīnīya’, in Gurdofarid Mizkinzoda, M.A. Amir-Moezzi and Farhad Daftary (eds), The Study of Shiʿi Islam, London: I.B. Tauris in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2013, pp. 391–410 [Maximalist Imamology I] This first piece dealt with an aspect of the Safavid manifestation.
2) ‘Shiʿi Political Theology and Esotericism in Qajar Iran: The case of Sayyid Jaʿfar Kashfī’, in Mohammed Ali Amir-Moezzi et al (eds), Esotérisme shiʿite: ses racines et set prolongements, Louvain: Peeters/EPHE, 2016, pp. 687–712 [Maximalist Imamology II] This turned to one significant Qajar development - there is much more to say on the Qajar context as it became a major issue of discussion by philosophers (of the school of Mullā Ṣadrā, the school of Ibn ʿArabī as well as among the Shaykhīya) as well as Sufis.
3) ‘Esoteric Shiʿi Islam in the Later School of al-Ḥilla: Walāya and Apocalypticism in al-Ḥasan b. Sulaymān al-Ḥillī (d. after 1400) and Rajab al-Bursī (d. c. 1411)’, in Edmund Hayes and Rodrigo Adem (eds), Reason, Esotericism, and the Construction of Authority, Leiden: Brill, 2021, pp. 190–241 [Maximalist Imamology III - this work]
Soon to come are two further articles. One looks at the issue of divine simplicity and its philosophical defence in Shiʿi philosophical theology and how it engages with a theology of the divine names to explains how the transcendent intervenes in the cosmos and how the immanent pervades it. The fifth in the series that will follow soon after will examine another episode of the exposition of Maximalist Imamology on the cusp of the Safavid period by examining the devotional literature especially of Taqī al-Dīn al-Kafʿamī.
While I don't think I will manage a full history of the idea of Maximalist Imāmology, I hope that these articles will put forward a certain account within Islamic intellectual history. The influence of Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi's work and his early articles on divine humanity in the Shiʿi context should be clear.