Iranian Modernity-Part 1

IRANIAN Modernity (?)

Canaan Ramezan Nia

 General overview

Unlike European countries where the terminologies like modernity, modernism and modernisation have been canonical for centuries, Iranian modernity is a rather ambiguous concept since, as discussed earlier in this chapter, Iranian modernity underwent some drastic changes during Iranian history. In this chapter, we tried to put into consideration those scholars and social critics like Daryoush Ashouri, Ramin Jahanbegloo, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, and Abbas Milani as the major voices of cultural and social transformations in contemporary Iran. For example, what matters for Ashouri is the Iranian earliest confrontation with the West. In his view, there are conceptual differences, ontological versus cosmological, between the East and the West. In other words, in western societies the old concept of human as a creature who should be guided by the supreme power of God declined and human as a self-sufficient being whose will is beyond anything became the dominant concept. Later on, such conceptual differences set the scene for the emergence of anti-Modernism as manifested in Ali Shariati's and Jalal Alahmad's works. Ashouri himself, on the one hand, seems optimistic towards such conceptual poverty like when he speaks about Asian Renaissance[1] and, on the other hand, when it comes to crisis of identity and language he feels rather pessimistic. In other words, on some occasions he argues in favour of Iranian modernity, and in other occasions he speaks against Iranian quasi-modernity (shebhe modernite) or semi-modernity (nime modernite).

     For Jahanbegloo, who has written many books on modernity and all of them are included in this part, Iranian society cannot escape modernity for it is a universal movement and all countries, in one way or another, are influenced or are going to be influenced by it. However, the unsuccessful socio-political transformations in Iranian history and hasty modernisation since Qajar's time were among the reasons why Iranian modernity faced with huge problems. Jahanbegloo is obviously optimistic that a new generation of Iranian intellectuals, whom he calls the generation of dialogue (nasle gofteman), are trying to understand the meaning and nature of the Western modernity based on the critical reason which is a cornerstone of modernity. In the same way, but from a different perspective, Boroujerdi concentrates on the process of modernisation during Reza Shah's reign and believes that the foundations of modernity established during the era because of the increasing number of modern organisations like schools, colleges, and so on and the growth of literacy and high oil price which led to a welfare state that enhanced the emergence of a middle class who sought political freedom. Such quest for political freedom is manifested in Constitutional Revolution. Then he concludes that such conflicting discourse is a step forward for secular re-configuration of Iran which has been postponed for some centuries, that is, since the Constitutional Revolution.

     As one of the new methods of reading history and literature, Milani attempts to unveil those narratives which have been ignored for a long time because of some socio-political factors. In so doing, he reads a wide range of Persian historical and literary works in order to decode the early roots of modernity and Iranian paradoxical response to it.

     Undoubtedly, in any research like this, there are some limitations like time and space which do not allow the researcher to cover all aspects fully as they deserve it, but in any case, this attempt may pave the way for those who want to do further research in future. As a result, we tried to outline some key figures and ideas about Iranian modernity

[1]All the emphases are original unless otherwise are mentioned.

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