Show/hide main menu

Level 7

7AAH5015 Obsessed with the West: Movements and Ideologies in Modern Iran

Credit value: 20
Module tutor 2018/19: Dr Reza Zia-Ebrahimi
Module tutor 2019/20: Dr Reza Zia-Ebrahimi
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay (100%)
Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

From a mere buffer state in the Anglo-Russian ‘Great Game’ rivalry, to the first genuine Middle Eastern oil state, from Washington’s close ally in the Cold War to the leader of the ‘Axis of Evil’, Iran’s modern history has been, to say the least, eventful. However, there is more to Iran than its international troubles and this course aims to move beyond the two equally hackneyed narratives of ‘the splendours of Persia’ and ‘the Iranian menace’ to focus on the country’s modern intellectual history. This is the story of the thinkers, ideologues and agitators that shaped Iran’s sense of itself, and aimed to solve the very peculiar predicament of a nation never formally colonised yet traumatised by its encounter with engelis-e por tadlis (perfidious Albion/England) and rus-e manhus (ominous Russia). Whether advocating a constitutional order, ‘Aryanist’ nationalism, a Marxist utopia, anticolonial resistance, autocratic modernisation, a return to the authentic ‘self’ or a Shia revolutionary creed, most modern intellectuals have been in one way or the other ‘obsessed with the West’. The West is a source of emulation, and a source of intoxication. The mother of all ills, and the panacea to the same ills. This course will offer students an insight into some of the ideologies and movements that have shaped Iran’s intellectual life since 1800 through extensive secondary readings and seminar engagement with excerpts taken from pamphlets, speeches, memoirs and diaries. Knowledge of Persian or Iranian history are not prerequisites for this module, however it is recommended to peruse some of the textbooks beforehand.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introduction: modernist thought and the traumatic encounter with Europe
  2. ‘Conditioning’ royal prerogatives: constitutionalism and the struggle for law
  3. The Iranian nation. Ancient or (re-)invented?
  4. Failure or transformation? – The Left
  5. The alternative route that wasn’t – Mosaddeq and the oil nationalisation movement
  6. Autocratic modernisation under the Pahlavis
  7. The nativist charge against ‘westoxication
  8. Revolution and the creation of an Islamic state - Khomeinism
  9. Feminism in an Islamic republic
  10. Reformism or the human face of the Islamic Republic

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purcahse of these texts is not mandatory. Dr Zia-Ebrahiimi recommends that students on the module purchase at least one of the textbooks.They are mostly paperback and can be found cheaply or second-hand online.They are also available at the Library free of charge. 

Abbas Amanat. Iran: A Modern History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017

Ali M. Ansari. Modern Iran since 1921: The Pahlavis and After. London: Longman, 2003.

John Foran, ed., A Century of Revolution: Social Movements in Iran. University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Joanna De Groot. Religion, Culture and Politics in Iran: from the Qajars to Khomeini. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.

Ali Gheissari. Iranian Intellectuals in the 20th Century. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998.

Homa Katouzian. The Persians: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Iran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Nikki R. Keddie. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. Updated ed. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006.

Ali Mirsepassi. Intellectual Discourse and the Politics of Modernization: Negotiating Modernity in Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Roy P. Mottahedeh. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. Rev. ed. Richmond: Oneworld, 2009. Highly recommended!!

Negin Nabavi, Intellectuals and the State in Iran: Politics, Discourse, and the Dilemma of Authenticity. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

Farzin Vahdat. God and Juggernaut: Iran's Intellectual Encounter with Modernity. 1st ed. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2002.


Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454