Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953-2000: From Bazargan to Soroush

Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953-2000: From Bazargan to Soroush

Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953-2000: From Bazargan to Soroush

Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran, 1953-2000: From Bazargan to Soroush

Synopsis

This volume focuses primarily on the question of the compatibility of Islam and democracy. It highlights the contribution of seven prominent pre- and post-revolutionary Iranian religious thinkers on the subject. Situating the discussion in its specific religious context, the book critically examines those elements that are usually referred to as democratic norms in Islamic tradition. It also provides, for the first time, an exposition of the emergence of religious intellectualism in post-revolutionary Iran, focusing on the ideas of its leading figure, Abdolkarim Soroush. His discussion of religious democratic government presents a paradigm shift in the Muslim modernists' discourse on the issue.

The book also delineates the intellectual component of the current reformist movement in Iran and sheds light on the challenges that the pro-democracy movement has to overcome.

Excerpt

At two junctures in their recent history, Iranian religious thinkers have been threatened by the hegemony of Western ideas and have felt compelled to reevaluate the validity of their Islamic tradition. As a consequence, on each occasion they attempted to reformulate and redefine certain doctrines and institutions in terms of the prevailing ideas of the time. The first challenge came at the turn of the last century and culminated in the event of the Constitutional Movement (1906–1911). The second challenge began to take shape in the middle of the twentieth century. From the early 1930s modernization plans in line with Western models were implemented by the political establishment of Reza Shah, while in the 1940s Marxist ideas began to be disseminated among Iranian youth. These two forces constituted a major threat to the religious establishment which felt gradually weaker under the pressure of these new ideologies. At the outset, the religious establishment tacitly approved these political and administrative reforms without making any attempt to challenge them on a theoretical level. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, a number of developments led to an intellectual reawakening among concerned Iranian Muslims, finally producing a distinctively new Iranian Shī˒ite world view which was to play a significant role in the decades following. This newly-emerged trend of Islamic thought was espoused by committed Muslims—essentially coming from a lay background although also including a number of the clergy—who were aware of the problems of their changing cultural and sociopolitical environment. In the present study, they are referred to as Muslim intellectuals. By Muslim intellectualism is meant an outlook distinctive from the traditional mode of Islamic thought. It shares its basic characteristics with religious modernism. This trend of thought can be generally defined as an intellectual endeavour to reestablish harmony between religion and a changing society in which religion is considered to be in position of weakness and dysfunctional. Islamic modernism has been defined as:

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