Discussion Responses (Ancient Iran Religion & State Course)
Please dedicate 1 page per response to each weeks readings. I have attached the readings that you will need. I have also provided a peer’s sample answer for each weeks discussion. Please do not copy it but feel free to use it as inspiration.
Sample Response: For this week, we read about Shi’ism and the Safavid revolution. In the reading, the author mentions the historical context and the roots of the Safavid’s power as the outcome of constant tensions in the realm, which included foreign invasions such as that of the Mongols. Hence, this continued struggle played a significant role in establishing an identity for the Safavids – one that also had a mystical appeal. Notably, in the earlier stages of establishing a Safavid order, the utilization of tribal lines such as the Qezilbash significantly assisted them in forming a potent presence in the region.
Nonetheless, it was interesting that the Qezilbash had very different values in comparison to the conventional Twelver Shi’ism, which stemmed from a diverse array of geographical and non-Islamic traditions. Despite this apparent divergence in many values, the unique twelve-folded attire of this group was generally interpreted as their devotion to the Twelvers. As Amanat underlines, the more plausible purpose of this outfit was a symbolized devotion to the Safavi leaders (43). However, regardless of which is more accurate, this multifaceted interpretation once again showcases the prevalence and the significance of incorporating religious ideologies into certain practices/rituals in order to reach a broader audience.
Anzali – Debate Mulla Qummi and Mulla Majlisi
Khafipour – Safavid Claim to Sovereignt
Sample Response: This week’s readings discussed the emergence of the Babi and Baha’i faiths during the Qajar era, presenting them as a part of Iranian modernity, religious movements which contained faithful from across a wide variety of social groups in Iran, and evidence of and a response to growing public discontent towards the Qajar dynasty.
The following quote from Cole’s reading stood out to me: “The vast majority of those who became Bahais were peasants or urban workers and artisans. Admittedly, for many of the illiterate working-class Bahais, the attractions of the religion may have lain more in its millenarian promise of a bright new future, in its being an authentic, indigenous Iranian response to the onslaught of European modernity, or in the dread the religion inspired among the feudal nobility (so that joining it was a means of “silent” protest against their exploitation by the Qajar, Shi`ite Establishment).”
Clearly the Baha’i faith was not simply an urban or bourgeoise movement, rather it was a movement which appealed primarily to peasants, urban workers, and others looking for hope and a better future for themselves and Iran during this uncertain period of Iranian history. Furthermore, the faith served as a cry of defiance against the Qajar regime and their mistreatment, as well as a beacon in the age modernization and Western imperialism.
The readings also debunked the Orientalist narrative and myth of decline which has presented the Qajar era as a dark age in Iranian history, for they show that in terms of religion, art, and modernization, the Qajar era was a time of growth. The establishment of Dar-ol Fanun highlights the Qajars’ attempts at modernization, as well as the fact that they had some success in this area.
ringer – Negotiating Modernity in Between Tradition and Modernity
Sample Response: This week we discussed nationalism and the national identity created in Iran based on a pre-Islamic past. One major factor in this new Iranian identity is calling oneself Aryan. I do not necessarily see this as a bad thing, seeing as the name “Iran itself has the word Aryan incorporated into it. The problem here comes from the fact that this term was redefined by European scholars who sought to make definitions based on their own limited and biased understanding.
Another interesting thing that I noticed during class is that the question of culture was brought up, and whether or not it is okay for non-Zoroastrian Iranians to adopt and use symbols such as Faravahar. I personally do not see a problem with this since these ancient traditions and symbols belong just as much to our ancestors as it does for modern day Zoroastrians. In other words, it seems like we think of the Muslim past as a rejection of these ancient ways of life, while in reality, as we learned, these ancient cultures would be incorporated into new systems and change over time. Overall, learning about the pre-Islamic period and being proud of it should not be associated with racism or ant-Islam, since it was a period which had great lasting influences on all of Iran’s history.
However, the same problem is brought back up, that is, the misinformation surrounding these symbols. As can be seen in my notecard post, many Iranians create assumptions about these historic objects, and are quick to accept false information about them that sounds good. This is further boosted by the companies creating replications or jewelry based on such items, and using the false nationalistic perspective to sell copies of them.
Another example of false national understanding comes from the perception of Reza Shah. It is clear that his main goal was to centralize the country and to build up power for himself, and any goal he had regarding national identity or pride towards the ancient culture was secondary to him. This does not mean however that the path he took for the country was a bad thing, in reality, I think the evidence shows that Iran was better off under his rule and foundation, which later allowed a state to be created that was able to compete with Europe. However, it is also important to mention that he did not do what he did out of kindness or nationalism.
Sample Response: This week we read Red Shiism vs. Black Shiism, an article written by Dr. Ali Shariati. I found his classification and discussion of Shia Islam very interesting, specifically how he splits it into red and black Shiism. Shariati takes the side of Red Shiism, and describes it as a revolutionary side. Black Shiism on the other hand is that which has been established by the elite ruling class, and is used to control and oppress the masses. While I do not exactly agree with the ideal system that Shariati has in mind for Iran, it is clear that he is very well read on the matters of history, and that his anti-establishment ideologies are very interesting. Overall, it seems like he believes in a form of Marxism and Islamism, which seems to be a common blend among many of the Iranian revolutionaries who held Islamic beliefs at this time. I believe that studying Shariatis philosophy is central for understanding one of the major factors of change within Iran, and one of the Pahlavi Dynastys biggest opposition.
Sample Response: This week we reviewed Shariatis work in class, and moved on to discussing Khomeini, and his writings, as well as his philosophy. One particular thing which I found interesting was that Dr. Benkato mentioned how Khomeinis work was not completely revolutionary or different from the writings of past Shia clergy. I never thought too much about this, but I think that it is an important point to discuss in regards to the context behind the revolution. It seems to me like Khomeinis straightforward and traditional arguments sold the image of a religious figure who cared about upholding Islamic law with the goals of improving a society and helping its citizens. This narrative, in contrast with the newer, centralized, authoritarian state formed by Reza Shah, and upheld by the Shah shows how Khomeinis arguments and criticisms were very well received by the majority of Iranians. Another interesting point about Khomeini is how popular he would become among the lower class. Despite having support across all classes, the vast majority of his followers were poor or uneducated, showing that the Shahs so called secular approach antagonized them, while the higher classes who followed Khomeini had issues with the Shahs authoritarian and Western-controlled rule.