Islamism and Modernism: The Changing Discourse in Iran

Islamism and Modernism: The Changing Discourse in Iran

Islamism and Modernism: The Changing Discourse in Iran

Islamism and Modernism: The Changing Discourse in Iran


While many previous books have probed the causes of Iran's Islamic Revolution of 1979, few have focused on the power of religion in shaping a national identity over the decades leading up to it. Islamism and Modernism captures the metamorphosis of the Islamic movement in Iran, from encounters with Great Britain and the United States in the 1920s through twenty-first-century struggles between those seeking to reform Islam's role and those who take a hardline defensive stance. Capturing the views of four generations of Muslim activists, Farhang Rajaee describes how the extremism of the 1960s brought more confidence to concerned Islam-minded Iranians and radicalized the Muslim world while Islamic alternatives to modernity were presented. Subsequent ideologies gave rise to the revolution, which in turn has fed a restructuring of Islam as a faith rather than as an ideology. Presenting thought-provoking discussions of religious thinkers such as Ha'eri, Burujerdi, Bazargan, and Shari'ati, along with contemporaries such as Kadivar, Soroush, and Shabestari, the author sheds rare light on the voices fueling contemporary Islamic thinking in Iran. A comprehensive study of these interwoven aspects of politics, religion, society, and identity, Islamism and Modernism offers crucial new insight into the aftermath of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution fought one hundred years ago--and its ramifications for the newest generation to face the crossroads of modernity and Islamic discourse in modern Iran today.


The Islamic Revolution of 1357 "1979" was indeed the victory of the
project of modernity over that of modernism.

Saeed hajjarian, az shahed qodsi ta shahed BAZARI;
orfi shodan din dar sepehr siyassat
(FROM sacred
witness to profane witness the secularization
of religion in the political SPHERE), 1380/2001

On February 1, 1979, an Air France Boeing 747 carrying Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini landed at Tehran's international airport. After fifteen years of exile in Turkey, Iraq, and France, he was arriving as the leader of an ongoing revolution. From the airport he went directly to the cemetery where the martyrs of the revolution were buried, and declared: "I will appoint a government, I will crush the present government." He achieved what he claimed: in a few days the age-old Persian monarchy fell and an Islamic government replaced it. Here, the adjective Islamic refers to a particular Shi'i interpretation of politics and polity. Shi'a is an Arabic word meaning "party" or "faction." It originated as the name of a group of Muslims who supported the candidacy of Ali (assassinated in 661) to be head of the newly founded Islamic state after the death of the Prophet in 632. Shi'ism was a minority view before becoming the official religion of Iran in the sixteenth century and the foundation of the state after the 1979 revolution. This book captures the intellectual development among the ruling elites who fomented the revolution and have guided postrevolutionary rule.

The revolution took everyone by surprise. Very few thought the regime of the Pahlavis, the most powerful monarchy in the Third World and an "island of stability" in the region, would fall so easily and quickly. It was widely believed that the long-established process of modernization, reforms, and development in Iran would never be threatened by a religious . . .

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