Theses Doctoral

Contending Visions of Iran: Battle for the Sacred Nation-State, 1941-1983

Bolourchi, Neda

Iranians who were marginalized by Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamicization of the 1979 Iranian Revolution nevertheless fought for Iran in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). This has been ignored in popular discourse and academic scholarship. But leaving out the historical willingness of people from across the political and religious spectrums to die in the “Sacred Defense” has left us misunderstanding Iranian nationalism. In this dissertation, I argue that the willingness of “secular” Iranians to sacrifice for Iran results from internal conflicts over the sacred Iran, and the concomitant sacrifices, that occurred in the four preceding decades. I demonstrate that during this period religion and sacrificial rhetoric and imagery were intrinsic to groups across the political spectrum and not just to the political right (e.g., Khomeini), as existing research has it. Civil society engaged in a transformative discourse about Iran not just as a country or homeland (vatan) but as the sacred (moqadas) necessitating sacrifice (feda kardan). The deployment of writings, speeches, and images of Iran as sacred at the time of the Allied Forces Invasion in 1941 became politically ubiquitous by 1953. The battle between the Shah and the Liberal-Left being waged at this time was an ideological and physical contestation of each’s vision for their distinct, future, sacred Iran. By re-contextualizing both sides as utopian ideologues, I change the historical narrative to show an entrenched, continuous confrontation in the subsequent decades before the Iran-Iraq War over divergent, idealized notions of the nation-state. This period of “sacrificial creationism,” as I describe it, over contending visions of the sacred produced “the nation” and identified its people as “nationals” beyond the conceptualization of social and political elites who advanced an official state nationalism. This sacrificial creationism generated the charged sentiment and popular participation that united Iranians against the Iraqi invasion, a unity that crossed political and religious affiliations to include Christians, Zoroastrians, and the Fedayeen-e Khalq. Now, just like other nation-states, Iran became the higher, meaning-making entity—the sacred—that transcends individual interests.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Anidjar, Gil
Dabashi, Hamid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 22, 2017