Understanding the Roots of the Iranian Revolution: Assessing the Power, Influence and Social Position of Shi’ite Ulama in Iran, 1890-1979

Martínez, José Ciro

"Following the theoretical framework employed by Ervand Abrahamian, this work aims to elucidate the diverse and distinctive populist, nationalist, and Islamist tendencies and strategies employed by the nominal leader of the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (Abrahamian 1982). It does this by exploring the historical role of the clerical class in Iran, a country with a large Shiite majority. By utilizing the theories of political development and state building employed by Barrington Moore and Charles Tilly, we have the tools to better examine and comprehend the influence and power of the Shiite mujtahids (Shiite religious scholars who are empowered to interpret legal issues not explicitly addressed in Quran), a topic that has confounded many analysts and policymakers. Through an examination of the position of Shiite clerics in relation to both the dominant mode of production and the processes of state-making, the ulama are unmasked and revealed as to be a social category or occupational group defined by its distinctive religious and occupational functions that has proven to be ideologically malleable, intellectually flexible, and concretely responsive to the political, economic, and social milieu that surrounds it.
Although our task is limited to explaining the variation in mujtahid influence over the past century, this work will contribute to the literature on Twelver Shiite forms, the role of Iranian ulama in Iran's politics and foreign policy. It informs U.S. and Western foreign policy-makers who are interested in the power structure of a country that may be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. My findings directly challenge the popular narrative that portrays Islamic revolutionaries and overtly Shiite political actors as ideologically-driven, religious fanatics."--from pages

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The Journal of Politics and Society

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Helvidius Group
Helvidius Group of Columbia University
Published Here
February 11, 2014


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