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Death, Love and Protest in Iran

Panel I-23, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • Tehran's Behesht-e Zahra Cemetery, the first modern organization of death in Iran, has been a part of Iranian modernity, central policies, the division of labor, and the establishment of various institutions in the development of Iranian society. Nowadays, this cemetery is considered one of the twenty-two urban districts of Tehran and has its municipality managed by a mayor. However, the critical point is that the municipality, as an institution, is owned by the living, not the dead. Therefore, the main question is based on what socio-cultural and political reasons does the Iranian government decide to elect a mayor for an institution of death? This paper is a part of my field research in Tehran's Behesht-e Zahar cemetery. First, I will review how the institution of death, with the arrival of modernity in Iran, shifted from a traditional and local to a rational and bureaucratic form. Then, investigating these changes and their effects on the death phenomenon, burial, and mourning, I will show how historical, political, economic, social, and cultural situations have transformed the cemetery from a territory of the dead to a territory of the living. Finally, Behesht-e Zahra is not a cemetery; it is a city that needs a mayor to support the social life of Tehran as a political and ideological representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Prof. Mojtaba Mahdavi
    “What are the Iranians dreaming about?” Michel Foucault raised this question on the eve of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Four decades after Foucault’s question and answer, postrevolutionary Iran has gone under profound and paradigmatic socio-political shifts. Hence, we need to ask one more time “what are the Iranians dreaming about today?" This paper is an attempt to answer this question in light of Iran’s progressive social movement of “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Freedom), which sparked in September 2022 after the death in detention of Jina (Mahsa) Amini by Iran’s morality police. The paper is divided into three sections to answer this central question. Inspired by critical postcolonial and subaltern studies, the first section problematizes the nature and the evolution of the Iranian “state” in the post-Green Movement of 2009. It shows the state rules in the name of god and the subaltern (the mostaz’afin), but in the service of a crony clerical oligarchy backed by the security-military apparatus. Hence, the state has betrayed both the “sacred” and the “secular”. Inspired by social movement theories, the second section demonstrates the dynamics of Iran’s “civil society” and its “post-Islamist social condition” (not post-Islam as a religion and culture) where all forms of Islamist discourses are socio-intellectually exhausted, making the Islamic Republic of Iran as an anachronical phenomenon. Given the rise of multiple democratic social movements in post-2009 Iran, the paper shows in detail how discursive, structural, and demographic paradigmatic shifts at the “societal” level have profoundly contributed to Iran’s “post-Islamist renaissance” and to a cautious optimism for the rise of a post-Islamist “polity”. The third section examines major structural and non-structural obstacles to the materialization of a post-Islamist “polity”. It will be argued that the current post-Islamist “social” condition is surrounded by some “political” obstacles. Using a “dialectics of structure and agency,” the paper examines how the interaction of three factors of the “state apparatus”, “uneven socio-economic conditions” and the complexity of “global power” structure reinforce structural obstacles. The conditions of “agential” factors will be examined by their “leadership” skills, “organizational” capacities, and “ideological discourses” of Iran’s pro-democracy forces. The conclusion sheds light on whether and under what conditions Iran’s social-political agents may transform structural obstacles into opportunities to materialize the Iranians’ dream of a post-Islamist democratic polity.
  • Dr. David Siddhartha Patel
    Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran – the two preeminent centers of Twelver Shi‘ite legal education and learning in the world – are typically described as being in competition with one another. They compete for influence in Shi‘ite communities across the globe and to be the home for the most widely followed religious authorities. This paper further develops this market analogy by employing economic theory to offer a different interpretation of religious authority in Shi‘ite Islam. I argue that the relationship between Najaf and Qom is better analyzed as a particular form of oligopoly: a duopoly, a market structure in which two interdependent firms dominate. These two seminaries compete to prevent either of them from monopolizing Shi‘ite religious authority. But they also collude to 1) prevent the emergence or growth of other rival centers for Shi‘ite religious training, and 2) preserve clerics’ sole authority to extract religious rents from believers. Najaf and Qom respect the other’s “franchises” when their placement make it difficult for competitor seminaries (e.g., in Iran and Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, India, the U.K.) to gain market share, and they work together to suppress doctrinal or popular movements that might challenge the Usuli school that dominates Twelver Shi‘ism today. This collusive behavior in the religious marketplace for Shi‘ism stifles innovation and explains why no Shi‘ite version of salafism or influential neo-Akhbari movement has developed. The paper concludes by analyzing how the deregulation of religion in Iraq, demographic changes, and imminent transitions within each of the leading “firms” (i.e., the looming successions to Sistani and Khamenei) might lower the barriers to entry in the religious marketplace of Shi‘ism. This could lead to greater differentiation between religious training in Najaf and Qom and a general weakening of clerics’ religious authority and privileged access to rents, increasing the diversity of Twelver Shi‘ite Islam.
  • Co-Authors: Ahmad Medadi
    What is the effect of external pressures, namely economic sanctions, on the civil society of the targeted nation? The dominant line of scholarship examined the impact of economic sanctions on nonstate actors, arguing that the financial shortcomings resulting from sanctions may deactivate the grassroots power of nonstate organizations. Their finding supports the hypothesis that as more people will be struggling for their essential needs, they are less likely to challenge the state by collective action (Salehi-Isfahani 2020; Ghomi 2022; Borszik 2016; Kokabisaghi 2018; Naghavi and Pignataro 2015; Peksen and Drury 2010). This paper will contribute to the literature by hypothesizing that the sanctions could activate the teacher’s movement in Iran and enhance its performance in terms of organization, mobilization, and grassroots presence. A within-the-case comparison of Iran’s teacher movement, in this paper, we will examine the effect of economic sanctions, known as the maximum pressure campaign, on Iran’s teachers’ movement from 2014 to 2022. Three major hypotheses will be tested; we will compare the two main episodes in which all nuclear sanctions were relieved and then reimposed. We will test the dependent variable of the teachers’ movement’s collective actions, indicated by all types of in-person protests, including sit-ins, rallies, and demonstrations, vis-à-vis three categories of independent variables. First is the indirect impact of sanctions on the work compensation of teachers. Second is the means of better organization of the collective action of teachers measured by the accessibility and influence of online communication platforms. The third is the trajectory of the movement’s demands in the period of this study mirrored in its slogans, hashtags, tweets, and statements. The anticipated findings of this paper would reveal the complexity of social protest in authoritarian regimes and the complex interplay of factors that affect the outcome of teacher mobilization, including the impact of economic sanctions and the use of new forms of social media in rallying support and/or challenging official discourse on sanctions.