Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Modernity, secularism, and the political in Iran
by Mohamadi, Omid, Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz, 2016, 227; 10244526
Abstract (Summary)

In the last decade, theorists in anthropology and other disciplines have vigorously critiqued commonplace distinctions between secularism and religion. Highlighting how secularism is a form of Western epistemology, such theorists have argued this distinction is deeply problematic because it obscures secularism’s historical, political, and cultural particularity.

My dissertation argues Iran is well situated to engage in this debate because its political terrain brings into relief how discussions of secularity and religiosity often fall back on an irresolvable dichotomy wherein secularism is defended without qualification or religious authoritarianism is ignored altogether. In an effort to move out of this impasse, my dissertation critiques the presumed neutrality of secularism without defending a thoroughly undemocratic Islamic Republic.

Through an examination of three sites within Iranian politics since 1979, I show how alternatives to both secularism and undemocratic forms of Islam are already present in Iran. The first site that I explore is the contemporary Iranian women’s movement, specifically the One Million Signatures Campaign, which seeks full gender equality within the laws of the Islamic Republic. I argue that the internal logic of rights and a specific set of socio-political conditions that arose out of the revolution in 1979 made the newly fostered cooperation between Islamic and secular feminists within this campaign possible. Utilizing critiques of rights by poststructuralist and postcolonial feminists, I arrive at a critical endorsement of women’s rights in Iran that calls for nurturing more radical political imaginaries by not treating rights jurisprudence as the apex of social justice struggles.

My second site focuses on the politics of time and its role in the 2009 post-election uprising as a further example of the porous boundary between secularism and religion in Iran. After surveying the history of Iran’s three dominant calendars and the forty-day mourning cycle of Shi’ite Islam in the last century, I argue the Islamic Republic is founded on temporal simultaneity, a non-secular organization of time wherein past, present, and future are enfolded into one dynamic moment. I conclude that during the 2009 uprising, protesters initiated a crisis of legitimacy for the regime by reconfiguring temporal markers that comprise this symbolic foundation of the contemporary Iranian state.

My final site is the visual culture in the Islamic Republic as well as Western understandings and depictions of it. I argue such analyses of artistic production in Iran by Western observers rely on a particular understanding of the state, religion, and art as discrete categories wholly separate from one another. This argument is twofold, the first part of which is a historical survey that shows how the relationship between art and the state in Iran over the last sixty years has been co-constitutive. On the basis of this history, I then explore contemporary Iranian street art, both sanctioned and illicit, to show how this convergence of art and the state has continued to unfold in the Islamic Republic. I show how the boundaries between culture and the state have not calcified under the current regime but remain dynamically in flux, albeit different ways than in the previous historical epoch.

Lastly, I trace how the politics of secularism and religion both consolidates and frays the public/private divide within these three sites. Given this fact, the question of what to do with secularism and religion in Iran is ultimately a question of what to do about the divide between the private and public spheres. Taking up the issue of the double-bind structuring the public/private divide, I conclude my dissertation by surveying the ethical-politico limitations and possibilities of these alternative political imaginaries in Iran.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Seth, Vanita
Commitee: Arondekar, Anjali, Moallem, Minoo, Thomas, Megan
School: University of California, Santa Cruz
Department: Politics (Feminist Studies)
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 78/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Political science
Keywords: Feminist theory, Iran, Postcolonial theory, Religion, Secularism
Publication Number: 10244526
ISBN: 978-1-369-49144-9
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