Vol. V, No. 2 (Jul.-Dec., 2016) Empire, Shi‘ism and Iranism: Iran After the Sanctions
Deadline for proposals: 31 December 2015
Deadline for articles: 15 March 2016
GEOPOLITICA. Rivista dell’Istituto in Alti Studi di Geopolitica e Scienze Ausiliarie is accepting submissions for its second 2016 issue (July-December).
The volume’s subject matter is: Empire, Shi‘ism and Iranism: Iran After the Sanctions (editors: Prof. Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti and Prof. Raffaele Mauriello).
Iran is usually described as the cradle of the most visible heresy of the Islamic world, Shi‘ism. This is incorrect. Shi‘ism, the branch of Islam represented by the veneration for the descendants of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth Caliph, is in both political/dynastic and religious terms mainly an Arab phenomenon. The most important centers of Shi‘i religious geography are Najaf and Karbala, in Iraq; these are the places where, in the early centuries of Islam, the fight against the incumbent Sunni power took place. In Iran we find a Shi‘i presence that goes back to the early conquest of the Iranian plateau; this is the case of Qom. However, Shi‘ism in Iran was to become dominant only late in Islamic history and for political reasons. The process began in the XVI century, which was at the beginning of what we can call “modernity” both in the western and eastern world. The defining event is the advent to power of a dynasty that had its roots in a Sufi confraternity, the Safawiyya. The new regime adopted Shi‘ism as its creed and began a process of conversion that in the following centuries was to reach almost the entire population of the country. Safavid Shi‘ism embraced the devotion to the lineage of ‘Ali, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad and husband of his daughter Fatima, which had already made inroads in Iran in the previous century. This was a period dominated by the figure of Tamerlane, who is considered to be spiritually and ideologically part of the ‘Alid Family. Here it is important to notice that the Safavid dynasty presented itself as being reformist and posited the devotion to the Family of the Prophet, an element at the basis of Shi‘ism, as one of its essential characteristics. That is to say that the well-known dispute over the succession to the Prophet, that was to cause the division of the Muslim community into Sunnis and Shi‘as, initially occurred in an Arabian environment. Iran on the other hand had a Sunni majority up until the XVI century and followed the dynamics of the power in charge in Baghdad where the Sunni caliphate dominated. Later Iran became the object of conquest by Turkic dynasties from central Asia, who were also Sunni. Therefore what it is important to underline here is the cultural-political element: Iran has always been a land of conquest, but the final result has paradoxically been that the country has always absorbed “the other,” at least in cultural terms.
It is worth pointing out that in Wahhabism, the form of Islam that established itself in the Arabian Peninsula with the Saudi dynasty – the archenemy of Iran –, the use of the word Shi‘a is very uncommon. However when it is used, it is generally another way of saying Iran, employing a terminology that emphasizes the negativity of the phenomenon, of its being outside of Islam. This shows the ambiguity in the definition of Shi‘ism by its alter ego, Wahhabism, a word that is itself equivalent to the Saudi dynasty. It is not by chance that if we go through a Wahhabi bibliography on the issue debated here the adjective “Imami” is also taboo, given the fact that “Imam” is a word that cannot be branded as ‘linguistic innovation,’ whatever the meaning one wants to assign to it.
Iran has, in principle, a specific identity of its own, regardless of the religious element. The country has an imperial history that does not originate with Islam. It is characterized by the inclination to assimilate different experiences, “Iranizing” them and making them, in one way or another, part of its DNA. In so doing Iran interprets history, its own history, as following a coherent path. This path has been conceived differently at different times, but the element that is never disputed is precisely the aspiration of the country to represent itself as an empire, as demonstrated by its entire history, even the most recent. This is perfectly logical, and it is on these bases that the specific declinations of the meanings of empire should be located. Iran was among the first lands to be conquered by the Arabs during the first wars of conquest undertaken by the early Muslims. It became the cultural protagonist of the newborn Islamic civilization and of the lands that entered the Islamic orbit during the early Islamic expansion. The conversions allowed the formation of an entity that was primarily cultural and political, the economic aspect being secondary. An example of this is the Abbasid Empire which would not have existed without the Iranic contribution. In this case the religious discourse became an instrument, or better an essential component of the imperial identity and integrity of the country, which was substantially Sunni. At that time a minority of the population in effect practiced Shi‘ism. As touched on earlier, we need to wait until the XVI century and the advent of the Safavid dynasty, whose founder, Isma‘il, imposed Shi‘ism as the state religion.
In Shi‘ism a particular role is given to the ‘ulama’ (interpreters of Islam), which to a certain extent resembles that of a “clergy,” and which does not have an equivalent in Sunnism: this is a powerful identity component which is proto-national in the modern sense of the word. In Iran, in the dominant ideological thought, Shi‘ism, even today, represents the Islamic transcription of “Iranicity” as the fundamental factor in the process that harmoniously welcomes revolutionary theories. This is demonstrated by the events of the last decades. They are of specific interest for us here and are highlighted because, although they seem to follow the same revolutionary path that caused the demise of the Pahlavi dynasty, they have in fact had important antecedents. One need only think that Iran witnessed a constitutionalist revolution at the very beginning of the XX century, with a time gap that appears to be short when compared with similar events relating to the rise of nationalism that occurred in Europe and America. Shi‘ism in Iran is an identity component that evolves in accordance with the specific historical context. This process is facilitated by the role of the ‘ulama’: a body clearly exemplified in recent times by Ayatollah Khomeini. On the basis of its expertise in religious knowledge, this category arrogates to itself the prerogative of representing continuity in the administration of the community. However, the ideological, political and religious scene is in fact very varied. A typical example of this is offered, albeit in different ways depending on the changing political context, by the fact that Zoroastrianism continues to be recognized today, at least by the upper class, as the expression of an undisputable “Iranicity” and as a general identity reference. This phenomenon takes place within the framework of Shi‘i religiosity and thus there is no necessity to justify in detail the process by which, for example, in the popular mind a female pre-Islamic divinity such us Anahita, the goddess of water, tallies with the figure of Fatima. She is a vehicle for the passage of the prophetic light, which she passes on from her father to the sons that succeed her husband. Over time Shi‘ism, born from the defeat of the aspirations to power of the descendants of ‘Ali, organized itself in Iran as an identity component of the country backed by the benevolence of the court. It rests on a consolidated cultural heritage which we can see as the basis of the revolutionary events that have punctuated Iran’s history in the last decades: a history that configures itself at the same time as a Risorgimento of ancient traditions and a reassessment of the meaning of the word tradition as a container of specific paths of modernization; the latter is understood as a continuation of a centuries-old history and, at the same time, as a test of a reading of modernity as a recovery of an essential identity which Shi‘ism itself represents as the cultural container of the tradition. That is to say that the different ideas of “laicity” currently put forward by Iranians can be interpreted not as a rejection of Islam, in its Shi‘i manifestation, but rather as a new revolutionary reading of the very idea of religion. It is seen as an instrument of progress and the basis of an identity that goes beyond the concept of simple opposition to the regime when it proves itself inadequate or is hostile to the idea of an umpteenth reinterpretation of what religion may mean: the high road to revolutionizing existing conditions.
Political uncertainty, which is clearly not peculiar only to Iran, makes predictions difficult to formulate. However, it also obliges scholars to privilege political-cultural aspects in their work when analyzing and trying to find solutions to the present conditions. It leads to their taking different approaches in detecting a path that debunks preposterous myths that speciously influence Western public opinion. The contributors to this issue of Geopolitica should keep this in mind when submitting their proposals.
Contributions regarding the following topics will be evaluated:
- ideological and political developments after the end of the sanctions;
- the influence of anti-Shi‘a Wahhabi policies;
- Qom center of periphery?;
- women as avant-garde: media, sport, arts, culture, and politics;
- the role of arts: cinema, theater, photography, and literature;
- Iran of the provinces;
- the Iranian projection: politics, religion, culture, and geography;
- Iran’s economic geography and international exchanges.
Authors are invited to send the abstracts of their articles – in Italian or English – without exceeding 400 words, and a brief (one paragraph at the most) biographical note by 31 December 2015. Mail must be sent electronically, through the use of the following contact form [click].
Within 10 days from dispatch, the authors of approved abstracts will receive a request to send their complete articles for peer review. A maximum length for articles is not foreseen, however, it is strongly recommended that they not exceed 35.000 characters. Articles are accepted in Italian, French, English and Spanish. All submitted articles must be unpublished and cannot be simultaneously offered to third parties. By submitting the article, the author states his ownership on its publishing rights for Italy and its exclusive assignment to GEOPOLITICA. Articles accepted in a language different than Italian could be published in translation, at discretion of the editorial staff. Articles (including those in Italian) must be equipped with an abstract in English (100-150 words) and with three key words, also in English. Articles should stricly follow the journal guidelines [click].
The deadline for submitting final article proofs is 15 March 2016. The invitation to submit a complete article does not guarantee its publication. Even articles approved by reviewers may not be published in the designated issue due to lack of space; however, following consent of the author, they will be published in a subsequent issue.
The publication of number 2 of the fifth volume of GEOPOLITICA is expected in December 2016 / January 2017.
GEOPOLITICA is the review of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Geopolitics and Auxiliary Sciences (IsAG), based in Rome; the journal is recognized by ANVUR (the Italian Agency for the Evaluation of University and Research) as “scientific journal” for Disciplinary Areas 11 (Historical, Philosophical, Pedagogical and Psychological Sciences), 13 (Economical and Statistical Sciences) and 14 (Political and Social Sciences).