Theses Doctoral

Theory from the South: Disciplinary Education and the Beginning of Religious Optionality in Iran (1889-1934)

Zarrinnal, Navid

This dissertation writes the intertwined histories of education and religion in Iran in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “New education” (maʿārif-i jadīd) —from 1889, the founding of the first dabistān in Tabriz, to 1934, the founding of the first university in Tehran—implemented an aspiration towards mass, functional literacy and disciplinary learning. Disciplinary education obliged learners into the service of the nation and the state, overshadowing ādāb al-mutaʻallimīn that had embarked the student on God-centered learning. As Iranians went through the twentieth century, new education transformed schooling, learning norms, and intellectual identities.

Less evidently but perhaps more significantly, new education brought about an unintended consequence: religious optionality, or the possibility of literacy without religious belief and practice. In making these arguments among others, this dissertation draws on printed, manuscript, and documentary sources in Persian and Arabic. It engages debates on secularization, also revising them in reference to the histories of the Global South. The present dissertation destabilizes received, Eurocentric theory of secularization, opening up the issues of religious and epistemic modernity to a wider range of human histories.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Dabashi, Hamid
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 6, 2022