Council on Foreign Relations
(In PDF Format)
Abdolkarim Soroush is a leading Iranian religious intellectual with
highly controversial ideas on religion and politics. This paper and the
Muslim Politics Program were made possible by the generous support of the
The main points of his political thought, discussed at greater length
in this paper, are:
- No understanding of Islam is ever complete or
- No religious government should rule on the basis
of an official Islamic political ideology.
- Human rights are the fundamental political
criterion, and democracy is the only form of government that can both
protect human rights and preserve a proper role for religion in
- Institutional links between the clerical
establishment and the government in religious states must be severed, in
order to protect the integrity of religion and clerics alike.
- Iranian and Western cultures are not mutually
opposed, but require continuous dialogue and constructive interaction.
Taken together, Soroush's positions provide a compelling alternative to
the conception of Iran as a static society devoid of internal
self-criticism, and a dynamic illustration of contemporary Muslim
responses to the role of religion in politics.
By James Piscatori and Riva Richmond
Seventeen years after the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a
new and fascinating political debate is taking shape there. This debate
centers around previously untouchable subjects at the heart of the
revolutionary ideology itself. Today, students, professors, journalists,
and political activists are discussing and challenging the current role of
Islam in politics, including the legitimacy of the participation of clergy
in government. They are also discussing the merits of pluralism, political
participation, and interaction with the outside world, including the West.
One of these leading political thinkers is Abdolkarim Soroush, a
university lecturer who has been described as an Iranian Martin Luther for
calling into question a priestly monopoly on religious--and hence,
political--authority. The American Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern Affairs has also recognized him as one of the leading contemporary
advocates of new and fresh thinking in Muslim societies. Of course, his
views have caused controversy, and have even resulted in threats against
his life. But Soroush enjoys a great deal of popularity among Iran's youth
and technocratic elite. He comes from within the Islamic Revolution
itself, and, with these credentials, has been able to make an impact on
the political scene.
Soroush is controversial for two reasons: he argues for a clear
distinction between clerical and religious power; and he champions
democracy, human rights, and interaction with the West. Soroush does not
reject Islam's role in politics wholesale. In fact, he argues that
democratic government must reflect the society it represents. Since Iran
is a religious society, its government must have a religious character.
But the criterion for governance must be human rights, which in fact
guarantees the state's religious as well as democratic nature.
Understanding this debate over Islam and politics, and Soroush's
contribution to it, is important for Western observers of Muslim politics
because it provides an indication of a self-ascribed Islamic political
system in flux, maturing and evolving to meet the demands of contemporary
times. This evolution runs counter to the widely held perception that
Islamic political orders are theologically rigid, capable of adapting to
pragmatic necessity only at the expense of their core legitimacy. The
openness of thought that Soroush exemplifies is particularly striking
because it contributes to the debate over Iran's ruling doctrine,
vilayat-i faqih (guardianship of the jurisconsult), which legitimizes the
political authority of leading religious interpreters. While indirectly
criticizing this doctrine, he does not reject the Islamic Revolution or
its broad goals. Rather, his argument that religiously imposed ideology is
a distortion of religious values--which both hinders the pursuit of
knowledge and corrupts political power--brings into question the
particularities of the prevailing ruling structure.
Such controversies over Islamic political thought are also important
because they suggest the ascendance of two new trends in Muslim politics
more generally. First, Soroush is one of a number of thinkers who is
making a substantial impact on religious thought in his society without
having been molded by the traditional system of religious education. The
emergence of these "new" intellectuals, modern trained and familiar with
both Islamic traditions and Western fields of knowledge, is part of a
larger movement toward the fragmentation of religious authority. There is
no longer one clear voice speaking for Islam, but many competing voices.
While the diversity of voices that results may not in itself guarantee
political and social pluralism, it contributes to the evolution of thought
and political culture underway in Muslim societies across the world.
Secondly, Soroush exemplifies a worldwide phenomenon that goes beyond
this de facto multiplicity of voices by directly advocating pluralism and
political participation and by validating them as inherently Islamic. The
endorsement of these concepts provides common ground for positive
interaction between Muslim and Western societies and refutes the widely
held perception that Iranian political society is monolithic in its
thought, and permanently hostile to the West. The subtlety and richness of
contemporary Muslim thought--of which Abdolkarim Soroush is one distinct
and brave example--challenges the notion that an "Islamic state" is
necessarily antithetical to Western values and interests.
Post-revolutionary Iran often is depicted as a society devoid and
incapable of self-criticism that is dominated by a monolithic view of
religion and politics.* A revolutionary Islamic ideology is identified as
both the legitimizing factor for the government, and as the sole standard
of political discourse. This is a popular but inaccurate view.
In the seventeen years since the success of the Islamic Revolution
(1978-1979), Iranian intellectuals have engaged in a serious debate on
topics of fundamental political importance. At question are such vital
issues as: Can there be one final interpretation of Islam? What is the
role of religion in politics? Is Islam compatible with democracy? Has the
post-revolutionary experience prompted a need for reform in the clerical
establishment? What sort of relations should Iran have with the West?
Abdolkarim Soroush is perhaps the foremost Iranian religious intellectual
engaging in these dynamic discussions. His ideas on politics, and the
religious paradigm he advances, are highly controversial in contemporary
Soroush argues for reform in key social and political arenas. Based on the
conviction that no understanding of Islam is ever complete or final, he
dismisses any attempts to formulate an official Islamic political
ideology. He argues that while in religious countries religion and
politics are connected intimately, religion should not be reduced to a
political platform. In denying the possibility of ruling by one official
religious ideology, he maintains, instead, that religious states must be
democratic states. Soroush warns against the subservience of the clerical
establishment to the government, and proposes fundamental reforms in this
establishment. And he strongly supports the need for cultural dialogue
between Iran and the Western world. These criticisms touch deep and
sensitive topics, and they have earned Soroush both a receptive audience,
and an active opposition. 1
The significance of Soroush's critiques lies also in the critic. Unlike
secular Iranian, or Western, critics, Soroush is a devout Iranian Muslim
who participated in the early phases of the post-revolutionary government.
He formulates his political thought entirely within his conception of
Islam, and it is the compatibility between his religious and political
visions that lends his criticisms such practical consequences. For Soroush
projects an image of society in which democracy, freedom of expression,
and sustained intercultural relations are the best guarantors of religion.
His writings and talks blend religious and poetic metaphor, and have found
an eager audience among many of the educated Iranian youth anxious for an
understanding of Islam responsive to modern social and political issues.
The significance of Soroush's thought is assessed here by addressing the
following questions: Who is Abdolkarim Soroush, and why are his views
important? How does Soroush conceptualize Islam? What role does he see for
religion in politics? What are his views on the structure and purpose of
the clerical establishment? How does he envision Iranian-Western
Soroush and his Conception of Islam
Abdolkarim Soroush is the pen-name for Hossein Dabbagh, one of the most
prominent contemporary Iranian religious intellectuals. Soroush studied at
the 'Alavi secondary school in Tehran, one of the first schools to teach a
combination of the modern sciences and religious studies. A highly
disciplined institution, the 'Alavi school has produced a significant
number of present mid- and high-level members of the Iranian government.
At the university and post-graduate levels, he studied pharmacology in
Iran, and the history and philosophy of science in England.
Soroush was close to both 'Ali Shariati (d. 1977) and Ayatollah Murtaza
Mutahhari (d. 1979), two pivotal ideological figures in pre-revolutionary
Iran. He returned to Iran from England in the midst of the Islamic
Revolution of 1978-79. Immediately after the Revolution he held a
high-ranking position on the Committee of the Cultural Revolution, charged
with, among other tasks, shaping Iran's higher education system along
Islamic lines. In 1987 he resigned from the Committee amidst disagreements
over its purpose and effectiveness.
In 1992, Soroush established the Research Faculty for the History and
Philosophy of Science at the Research Institute for the Humanities in
Tehran, the first faculty of its kind in either pre- or post-revolutionary
Iran. Soroush is currently a research fellow of the Faculty and a member
of the Iranian Academy of Sciences. He has lectured extensively to both
lay and theological audiences in Iran, from universities and mosques in
Tehran to seminaries in Qum, and audiocassette recordings of his lectures
circulate widely among Iranian students. His revolutionary credentials,
academic training, relationship with key figures in the Islamic
Revolution, and thorough knowledge of Islam allow him to speak with an
authority shared by few among the Iranian religious intelligentsia.
Soroush positions his understanding of religion within a greater project
of Islamic revivalism in the modern Muslim world. 2 Contemporary Muslim
thinkers often argue that Islam must be "reconstructed" or "revived" in
order to meet the needs of modern man and society. Soroush takes a
different view on this issue. He accepts that the modern world is
constantly changing, and that there is a need to reconcile change in the
external world with the immutability of religion. Yet his solution is not
the reconstruction or revival of Islam. For Soroush, Islam is unchanging.
Any attempt to reconstruct Islam is both futile and illusory, for is not
Islam that must be changed, but the human understanding of Islam. 3 In
this distinction lies the key to reconciling a fixed religion with a
dynamic world. Just as there is no doubt that the world continuously
changes, so too is there no doubt that man's understanding of religion
changes. To meet the challenges of modernity, Muslims should not seek to
change their religion, but rather should reconcile their understanding of
religion with changes in the outside world. 4 This requires a conception
of religion that accepts the inevitability of change in human
understanding of religion. Soroush offers such a conception, and bases it
on an analysis of the development and growth of religious knowledge (ma'rifat-i
While religion itself does not change, human understanding and knowledge
of it does. Religious knowledge is but one among many branches of human
knowledge. It is not divine by virtue of its divine subject matter, and it
should not be confused with religion itself. 5 Religious knowledge is the
product of scholars engaged in the study of the unchanging core of Shi'i
Islamic texts--the Qur'an, the hadith, and the teachings of the Shi'i
Imams. 6 These scholars interpret the texts through the use of various
methods, ranging from the rules of Arabic grammar to inferential logic,
from Aristotelian philosophy to contemporary hermeneutics. Religious
knowledge changes then as a function of these methods. But it is also
influenced heavily by the worldview that informs each scholar. 7 In
addition to the use of particular methods for the study of religion, a
scholar of religion also possesses a distinct understanding of the world,
nature, and man's place in both. This is determined not only by his study
of religion, but also by his understanding of advances in the natural and
social sciences. 8 A medieval scholar's worldview, for example,
dramatically differs from that of a modern one, resulting in different
interpretations of religion and leading to different bodies of religious
Religious knowledge changes and evolves over time, as more comprehensive
understandings replace previous, more limited interpretations. Yet all
interpretations are bound by the era in which a religious scholar lives,
and by the degree of advancement of the human sciences and religious
studies within this era. It is impossible to study the Qur'an without
certain presuppositions derived from outside the Qur'an. These
presuppositions, determined by a scholar's intellectual worldview
(understanding of the other human sciences), ensure that any understanding
of religion is time-bound. 9 For religious knowledge is created by the
application of the "knowledge of the day" to the study of the core
religious texts. 10 Religion on the other hand, is eternal, and the
relativity of religious knowledge does not entail the relativity of
The relativity of religious knowledge does not eliminate the possibility
of discerning between "correct" or "incorrect" interpretations of
religion. 11 The responsibility for distinguishing between these
interpretations falls upon the scholarly community. The central issue here
is one of methodology. 12 Like scientists, scholars of religion possess a
methodology that is both distinct to their field of study and publicly
accepted within it. Soroush holds that knowledge is public--as the
creation of new knowledge is always in reference to the overall public
body of human knowledge--so the criteria for judging correct from
incorrect knowledge must be public as well. 13 He does not articulate this
criteria, for Soroush is not concerned with distinguishing better from
worse interpretations, but rather with uncovering the means by which
religious knowledge (of any quality) is formed and develops. 14
Explicit within the argument is the total reconcilability between
religious and scientific knowledge. 15 There is an intimate connection--a
"continuous dialogue"--between religious and non-religious branches of
human knowledge. 16 Hence the parallel growth of all human sciences can
occur only in an open and rational intellectual climate. Soroush is
committed to freedom of intellectual inquiry, and the right to criticize
rationally all academic theories, religious or non-religious.
Soroush's position is fundamentally one of caution: caution against
confusing religion itself with the knowledge gained from the study of it.
To avoid this error is to understand religious knowledge as a human
construct that necessarily and constantly changes. Muslims can then
"reconstruct" their religious interpretations in accordance with their
changing understanding of their world.
Soroush's concern is not solely with the articulation of a theory of
religious knowledge, but it is also with the establishment of conditions
necessary for the manifestation of this theory. His political critiques
stem from this latter concern. In moving from the realm of theory to that
of practice, he finds that there are significant social and political
obstacles to the proper growth of religious knowledge. In identifying and
criticizing these obstacles, he casts fundamental aspects of state and
society in a new light. Soroush's comments on religion and politics, the
role and structure of the clerical establishment, and relations with the
West, are three illustrative examples of the application of his religious
paradigm to practical matters.
The Role of
Religion in Politics
Should religion act as a political ideology? Can a state base its
religious legitimacy on a notion of Islamic ideology? Are religiously
derived methods alone sufficient for the governance of a modern state?
Soroush's answer to these questions is an emphatic no. He calls for the
abandonment of Islamic "ideology" altogether, arguing that it hinders the
growth of religious knowledge. And he maintains that religiously derived
methods of governance are insufficient for administering a modern state.
He rejects any government that claims legitimacy based on the
implementation of some notion of Islamic methods of governance. Instead,
Soroush considers a democratic government as the only one compatible with
his notion of Islam. In fact, it is not only compatible with, but
essential to, this notion. To understand why Soroush has reached these
conclusions, the reasons for his total rejection of using Islam as an
ideology must be examined first.
Islam as an
One of the striking features of the contemporary Muslim world is the
emergence and power of Islamic political ideology. "Islamic ideology" has
galvanized revolutionaries and legitimized political systems. It has
gained acceptance as a political manifestation of Islam, and much of the
debate surrounding it regards the form of Islam as an ideology, not the
existence of Islamic ideology itself. Soroush too considers Islamic
ideology a central issue in the modern Muslim world. Yet he is not an
Islamic ideologue. Instead, he completely opposes any form of Islamic
ideology; indeed, he sees religious ideology as one of the primary
obstacles to the growth of religious knowledge. 17
Soroush defines ideology as a social and political instrument used to
determine and direct public behavior. It "consists of a systematized and
ordered school of thought ... that situates itself as [a] guide to action
... [and acts] as a determining factor in people's political, social, and
moral positions." 18 In order to fulfill this guiding role, ideologies
provide an interpretation of the world that is easily comprehensible to
the public. This interpretation also must mobilize individuals toward
particular ideological ends. Soroush argues that these ends generally are
defined in opposition to a competing ideology. This confrontation between
rival ideologies leads to an interpretation of the world as divided
between two ideological poles. While this interpretation provides a clear
object for mass mobilization, it is fundamentally reductionist, as it
views the world solely in terms of the prevailing ideological discourse.
Islamic ideology requires both a religio-ideological interpretation of the
world and an ideological enemy. Revolutionary movements that embrace Islam
as an ideology, such as those of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1978-79),
well illustrate these qualities. Possessed of a distinct enemy (the Shah),
who himself represented an increasingly intolerable ideology (kingship),
many among the Iranian revolutionary masses also followed a religio-ideological
interpretation of the world. Undoubtedly this brand of Islamic ideology,
as formulated by 'Ali Shariati and other thinkers, played a role in
mobilizing the Iranian public and targeting them against the state. 20 As
a revolutionary force, Islamic ideology has proven its power, and Soroush
does not deny this. Yet he rejects ideology even for revolutionary ends.
The reason for this rejection lies in the characteristics of ideology, and
their effect upon religion. In situating itself in opposition to a
particular rival, and interpreting the world based on this rivalry,
religious ideology reduces the complexity of religion to a fixed
ideological worldview. 21 According to Soroush, it is impossible at any
time to defend one understanding of Islam as definitive. All
understandings change over time. To transform religion into an ideology is
to cast it in a definitive, unchanging mold. This replaces religion with
an ideological version of it, for the permanence of religion is now
ascribed to the religious ideology. The use of religion as a political
tool also subordinates the depth and complexity of religious
understandings to the imperatives of a temporary political struggle. 22
Ideological governments provide another view of the shortcomings of
ideology. A government that rules through an official ideology possesses
all the problems of ideology described above. Yet it also manifests
additional impediments to the growth of religious knowledge. An
ideological government must both develop and maintain an official
ideological platform, that at once legitimizes the government and acts as
an unifying and mobilizing force. To accomplish this it requires an
official class of government-allied ideologues, the sole task of which is
the formulation and defense of the ruling ideology. In a government ruled
on the basis of a religious ideology, this official class take the form of
government-allied interpreters of religion. 23 Whereas in a revolutionary
movement, a religious ideology serves the temporary purpose of
overthrowing an established enemy, in an ideological state this ideology
assumes an official and permanent form. Here religion becomes the servant
of the government, as it is transformed into a legitimizing ideological
For Soroush, it is the official nature of this ideology, together with the
existence of government-allied religious ideologues, that present a
substantial challenge to the free growth of religious knowledge. 24 One of
the conditions for the growth of this knowledge is the acceptance of
transformation and evolution in religious understandings. Yet the
articulation of an official ruling religious ideology restricts an
individual's freedom to interpret religion. By forcibly imposing an
ideological vulgarization of religion upon society, state-allied
ideologues do not only reduce individual freedom. They also determine the
acceptable standards and use of reason in religious inquiry, as any use of
reason that is not based on the logic of the prevailing ideology is deemed
unacceptable. Since unobstructed reason is necessary for the development
of religious knowledge in conjunction with the other human sciences, these
restrictive ideological standards doom the possibility for such
development. 25 Additionally, the restricted range of free thought and
rational inquiry in a religio-ideological state impedes not only the
natural growth of religious knowledge, but also the continued development
of the state:
In principle the possibility for the internal growth and development of a
[political] system exists only when that system is flexible, and [when]
the possibility for new reasoning and change exists within the system...
if [this] does not exist, inevitably for reform, the foundation [of the
system] must be inverted, and upon this inversion, a new foundation built.
Clearly, to Soroush religious ideology is dangerous both to the proper
pursuit of knowledge and the governance of society. Religious societies
should resist the ascension of ideological regimes, and their
transformation into an ideological society, for there are profound
differences between these two societies:
In an ideological society, the government ideologizes the society, whereas
in religious societies, the society makes the government religious. In an
ideological society, an official interpretation of ideology governs, but
in a religious society, [there are] prevailing interpretations but no
official interpretations. In an ideological society, the task of [the
formulation of] ideology is relegated to the ideologues. In a religious
society, however, the issue of religion is too great for it to be
relegated solely to the hands of the official interpreters. In a religious
society, no personality and no fatwa is beyond criticism. And no
understanding of religion is considered the final or most complete
Soroush argues that religion itself contains all the ideals that religious
ideologies manipulate, yet is not limited to these ideals alone. A
comprehensive understanding of religion includes an appreciation of the
religious injunctions to resist oppression, to act justly, and to aid the
oppressed that characterize a revolutionary ideology. 28 Unlike religious
ideology, this understanding is not limited to the combative and dynamic
aspects of religion, but also includes the more peaceful, esoteric, and
mystical aspects that religious ideology ignores entirely. Religion is
"more comprehensive than ideology," and individuals should aspire for an
understanding that includes and exceeds the values enshrined (imperfectly)
in ideology. 29 Not to do so is to discard religion for an ideological
caricature of it. 30
Islam and the Nature of Religious Government
While Soroush rejects the role of Islamic ideology as a governing
platform, he does not advocate the simple separation of religion and
politics. He argues instead that in a religious society politics
inevitably takes a religious form. 31 Individuals in a religious society
naturally manifest their commonly held religious sentiments in their
politics. If a political system in such a society rests upon public
opinion and participation, then this system will embody, in one form or
another, these religious sentiments. The question for Soroush is not
whether religion and politics are compatible, but what the nature of the
interaction between the two should be. In addressing this question,
Soroush reveals his fundamental concern that obstacles to the growth of
religious knowledge not arise. This leads him ultimately in the direction
of democracy. But the path to democracy begins with an analysis and
rejection of alternative forms of government.
Soroush approaches the issue of religious government by asking whether in
a religious society there is a religious right to governance, and which if
any individuals possess this right. 32 He considers two ways of answering
this question: one rooted in fiqh (jurisprudence), and the other in kalam
(theology). The jurisprudential response emphasizes the need to implement
religious justice, and the role of the faqih in interpreting and applying
this justice. In a religious society the faqih enjoys the right to govern,
and the exercise of this right requires the establishment of a particular
type of religious (fiqh-based) government. Soroush rejects this as too
limited an interpretation of religious governance. Fiqh is but one
dimension of religion, and to understand religion solely in terms of fiqh
is reductionist. While fiqh provides answers to strictly legal questions,
it does not address deeper issues, such as the meaning of justice and
freedom. 33 To address these latter issues, Soroush turns to kalam: "The
question of religious justice is a question for fiqh, but the question of
a just religion is a question for kalam." 34
Soroush maintains that a religious government must be a just government,
and that justice is a term defined outside of religion. 35 Religious
justice, based on fiqh, and understood as the interpretation and
application of Qur'anic law, can be derived directly from the Qur'an. Yet
the concept of justice itself cannot be defined by reference to the Qur'an
alone. Justice includes a conception of man, of what it means to be human,
and of what rights man enjoys. This conception must accord with religion,
but it cannot be defined on the basis of the religious texts alone: "we do
not draw [our conception of] justice from religion, but rather we accept
religion because it is just." 36 The relationship between religion and
justice can be understood only by entering into a theological debate that
makes use of, for example, the combined terms of philosophical,
metaphysical, political, and religious discourse. 37 This debate would
reveal that man, by virtue of his humanity, enjoys certain rights that are
not defined in the core religious texts. A religious state that reduces
its notion of justice to the implementation of fiqh jeopardizes these
extra-religious rights. 38
Beyond the right to govern, there is the question of the values embodied
in and the methods employed by government. Soroush argues that a religious
government must embody religious values, yet necessarily must use methods
developed outside of religion to protect these values. 39 There are no
specifically religious methods of governance. A government ruled on the
basis of fiqh alone not only reduces the range of human rights, it also
lacks sufficient methodological tools for governance. Soroush argues that
religion does not offer a plan for government, and any attempts to derive
such a plan from religion are wasted.
Bereft of any blueprint for government, Islam at best contains certain
legal commandments. 40 These commandments, interpreted through fiqh, can
only respond to a limited range of legal issues. The rational
administration of modern society requires more than a highly developed
code of religious law. Modern methods of government should be derived
instead from the modern social sciences--such as, for example, economics,
sociology, and public administration. 41 These methods must not violate
religious values, but they cannot be derived from religion itself.
Soroush's reservations about fiqh should not be misunderstood. He does not
reject the existence of a religious leader, the faqih, in government,
although he maintains that this leader, like all political officials, must
be subject to criticism and removal by the people. His primary concern
lies with the reduction of government to the implementation of fiqh. As a
governmental head, the faqih is responsible for leading the state. The
issue of leadership is distinct from that of administration. 42 A faqih,
as the lone head of state, may lead the state successfully. Yet fiqh alone
cannot administer the state successfully. Moreover, a state reduced to
fiqh is essentially an ideological state; for in order to legitimize its
emphasis on fiqh, and the exclusion of other aspects of religion, the
state requires an interpretation of religion that accords primary
importance to fiqh. 43 This interpretation must be both final and
official, and hence demands the creation of a class of state-allied
ideologues. The result is the establishment of an ideological government
that blocks the growth of religious knowledge through limiting religion to
an ideological notion of fiqh.The rejection of a government based on fiqh
does not amount to a denial of the doctrine of vilayat-i faqih. This
doctrine--the guardianship of the jurisconsult--forms the theoretical
basis of the Islamic Republic, calling for leadership by the faqih.
According to Soroush, vilayat-i faqih as a political theory cannot be
derived from fiqh. The theory is based on a consideration of the
historical and theological importance of the Imamate (imamat) and prophecy
(nubuvvat), and the faqih's relationship to these two. This consideration,
then, falls outside the field of fiqh, which is restricted to legal issues
...the debate concerning it [vilayat-i faqih] is outside the scope of fiqh,
because the questions of prophecy and Imamate are theological (kalami),
not jurisprudential (fiqhi), ones. Therefore the theory of "vilayat-i
faqih" as a theory of governance must be debated in the realm of theology,
prior to jurisprudence. 44
Soroush's concern is that vilayat-i faqih not be misunderstood as a
jursiprudential theory, but placed in its proper, theological context.
Islam and Democracy
Soroush's criticisms of Islamic ideology and his discussion of religious
government reject the use of any religious interpretation as a governing
platform. Rather than legitimize a government, Islamic ideology perverts
religion and stunts the development of religious knowledge. Instead of
defending religious rights and implementing religious justice, a religious
government founded on fiqh alone compromises man's extra-religious rights
and lacks the depth to govern properly. Yet Soroush sees a place for Islam
in politics. He argues that the only form of religious government that
does not transform religion into an ideology, or obstruct the growth of
religious knowledge, is a democratic one. Soroush does not identify
democracy with a particular western culture, as do many opponents of
democracy who refer to it as dimukrasi-yi gharbi (western democracy),
thereby turning it into the other that must be resisted. He considers
democracy a form of government that is compatible with multiple political
cultures, including Islamic ones. 45
Soroush maintains that a government in a religious society may claim
legitimacy either based on an interpretation of Islam or through
representation of the popular will. The first leads to the reduction of
Islam to an ideology. The second bypasses this problem and leads to
democracy. If a government in a religious society reflects public opinion,
then it necessarily will be a religious government. Citizens in such a
society are concerned that their government not violate or offend their
religious sentiments. A democratically elected government in a religious
society cannot be an irreligious government, for irreligious sentiments do
not characterize this society.
For a government to be both religious and democratic, according to
Soroush, it must protect the sanctity of religion and the rights of man.
46 Yet in defending the sanctity of religion the government must not value
a particular conception of religion over human rights. A government that
rules by one official interpretation of religion, and demands that its
citizens live according to this interpretation, sacrifices human rights
for ideological purity. 47 The guiding criteria for governance instead
must be human rights. 48 Soroush maintains that a religious society
embraces religion in large part because it accords with the society's
general sense of justice. Today this sense includes respect for human
rights. If a government defends human rights, it also defends religion, as
a just understanding of religion incorporates human rights: "observance of
human rights...not only guarantees a government's democratic, but also its
religious, nature." 49
A government based on the will of the people does not derive its
legitimacy from an Islamic ideology. It retains legitimacy so long as it
rules in accordance with the wants of its citizens. A religious democratic
government loses legitimacy when its actions not only oppose public will
but violate the public's sense of religion. In a religious society, a
commonly held understanding of religion provides an outer limit on
acceptable public actions. 50 This understanding must be allowed to grow
over time, in order for it to reflect society's changing needs and
beliefs. 51 Unlike an ideological government, a democratic government is
rooted in this public understanding, and hence does not block the growth
of religious understanding and knowledge. A democratic government, as
opposed to one reduced to fiqh, does not follow a strict implementation of
religious laws. Instead, religious laws, as they appear in the core
religious texts, are interpreted and expanded upon using the tools of
religious and non-religious branches of knowledge. 52 These laws must
accord with society's general, yet changing, understanding of religion.
Soroush argues that today this understanding includes a notion of human
rights that demands individuals be free to choose their own form of
government. 53 Any religious government that rules without societal
consent, or restricts this right, abrogates the public's conception of
justice and sacrifices its legitimacy.
Democracy is both a value system and a method of governance. As a
value-system, it respects human rights, the public's right to elect its
leaders and hold them accountable, and the defense of the public's notion
of justice. As a method of governance, democracy includes the traditional
notions of separation of powers, free elections, free and independent
press, freedom of expression, freedom of political assembly, multiple
political parties, and restrictions upon executive power. Soroush argues
that no government official should stand above criticism, and that all
must be accountable to the public. Accountability reduces the potential
for corruption and allows the public to remove, or restrict the power of,
incompetent officials. Democracy is, in effect, a method for
"rationalizing" politics. 54
The threat for a religious society is not the establishment of democratic
government, for this would only preserve religion's role in government. It
is instead that this society, for whatever reasons, loses its concern with
religion, both at the individual and public level. No form of government
is capable of forcibly making a people religious; this is something
individuals choose for themselves. 55 In an increasingly secularized,
irreligious society, a government that consistently applies the principles
of fiqh would no more protect the role of religion, than would a
democratically elected, irreligious government. Such a society has lost
the internal concern with religion necessary for maintaining a religious
government. A religious government can only remain so if its citizens
maintain their faith:
[in] a religious society and a religious government, everything, including
its government and law, rests on the believers' faith, and if this faith
crumbles or changes, [the society's] government and religious law will be
no different than in secular civil and legal systems. Islamic fiqh also
may be implemented in a faithless and secular society with [some] profit.
But both the practical success of Islamic fiqh and its existence and
attractiveness are wound together in the faith and belief of the
Soroush's conception of Islam and democracy has met with much criticism in
Iran, both from members of the 'ulama (religious scholars) and from lay
religious intellectuals. 57 Some have argued that Soroush has a poor
understanding of both Islam and democracy, for otherwise he would not
attempt to reconcile the two. One critic maintains that democracy is
inseparable from liberalism and secularism, and hence fundamentally
incompatible with Islam. This critic holds that, as Islam distinguishes
between the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims, any government that defends
equal human rights is non-Islamic. In a democratic state, religion is no
longer the basis of government, and he argues that this will lead to the
disappearance of religion from public affairs. This in turn causes
citizens in this democratic state to forget their religious heritage, and
treat religion as an obsolete relic. Finally, he laments that Soroush, by
virtue of his large following among the country's youth, undermines the
future generation's faith in Islam as a capable political force. 58
Soroush's response to this criticism provides additional insight into his
argument. He argues that to claim Islam and democracy are totally
incompatible confuses the interpretation of Islam with Islam itself. This
position, according to Soroush, ignores the outside presuppositions that
influence one's understanding of Islam. Inseparable from any religious
understanding, these presuppositions ensure that the human interpretation
of religion always differs from the religion itself. It is not Islam, but
this critic's interpretation of Islam that is opposed to democracy--just
as Soroush's interpretation supports democracy.
The question of equal rights for Muslims and non-Muslims in a Muslim
society highlights the divergence between Soroush and his critic. The
latter argues that equality of rights among these two groups is forbidden
in Islam (according to his interpretation). Soroush, in addition to his
previous argument that human rights cannot be restricted to
religiously-derived rights alone, maintains that this approach to the
question of Muslim and non-Muslim rights is flawed. He argues that in a
democratic state, neither Muslims nor non-Muslims derive their human
rights from their faith. For both, these rights are a product of their
membership within the larger group of humanity. Since for Soroush faith is
not the basis of rights, a non-Muslim is not required to renounce his/her
faith in order to enjoy equal human rights in a Muslim society. Nor are
Muslims required to renounce their faith in Islam as the one, true
religion, in order to accept equal rights for non-Muslims. 59
At a different level, many critics have questioned Soroush's approach
towards reconciling his understanding of Islam with democracy. They argue
that Soroush over-emphasizes the role of social consciousness 60 in
determining political structures, and pays too little attention to the
institutional bases of a potential "religious democratic state." According
to these critics, a publicly held understanding of Islam alone cannot
provide the basis for a religious government; it must be founded on
concrete religious institutions. 61
These same critics also maintain that Soroush's position is neither
theoretically sound nor historically accurate. It is theoretically weak
because it does not present an institutional mechanism capable of
translating public beliefs into political structures; rather it relies on
the mere presence of these public beliefs alone. Moreover, it assumes both
that this social consciousness is unified and that it will maintain its
unity over time. 62 From a historical perspective, they argue that there
are many religious societies in the contemporary world, but no religious
democratic states. The absence of democratic regimes within Muslim
societies suggests either that a social religious consciousness is an
insufficient guarantor of democracy, or that these societies are only
superficially religious. 63
The critics also reject Soroush's claim that modern conceptions of justice
entail a notion of human rights with which religious understandings should
and can conform. Instead they argue that today many religious
societies--including Iran--do not espouse a general religious
understanding that accepts these human rights. 64 In a modern religious
society, publicly held religious values may prevent, rather than support,
the establishment of a democratic state. These critics seek a response
from Soroush that details, methodologically and institutionally, the way
in which a religious democracy is established and maintained in a modern
religious society. 65
These criticisms challenge Soroush on a wide range of theoretical and
historical issues. Soroush's critics point rightly to the absence within
his framework of a developed institutional schema for a religious
democracy. Given Soroush's approach, this is a necessary absence. He
argues that no understanding of Islam can offer a detailed and effective
blueprint for the foundation and administration of any form of religious
government, democracy included. 66 It is wrong, he maintains, to judge the
religious nature of a state based on the degree to which its institutions
reflect some aspect of religion. The institutional role for religion in
government is at best limited to the establishment of a legal code that
incorporates, and is congruent with, fiqh. 67 Outside this restricted
legal capacity of fiqh, according to Soroush, there is no way to institute
religion in government. It is not institutions, but society, which
provides the religious foundation for the political system in Soroush's
thought. A religious society's social consciousness will lend a "religious
coloring" to all political affairs.
For Soroush's argument to be valid, it would have to explain the absence
of democratic regimes in modern religious societies. Many of his critics
have argued that, on the basis of Soroush's argument, pre-revolutionary
Iranian society was an irreligious one, for it lived under a monarchical,
rather than a religious, government. 68 Moreover, if this society was
irreligious, then it would have been incapable of launching an Islamic
revolution against the monarchy. Hence Soroush must either deny the
religious character of pre-revolutionary Iran--in the face of strong
evidence to the contrary--or posit some arbitrary date at which the
society passed from an irreligious to a religious phase.
Soroush's position on this can be read in either one of two ways. One
reading can be taken from his frequent statements that "a religious
society cannot have anything but a democratic government." This reading
requires Soroush to label the majority of present-day religious societies
that live under non-democratic regimes as irreligious. The second reading
requires attention to his qualifying statements, where Soroush admits that
non-democratic regimes may govern in a religious society, albeit through
the use of force and without proper societal consent. 69
Soroush also distinguishes between two types of religious societies. 70
The first is a society that is only superficially religious, and does not
possess a highly developed public religious consciousness. This society is
superficially religious in that its members only abide by their religious
duties (i.e., prayer or fasting) without demonstrating a deep concern
about the role of religion in their lives. Soroush does not deny the
importance of religious duties, but argues that while anyone is capable of
praying or fasting, these outward signs of faith do not reveal the depth
of a person's inner faith. One may pray out of habit, or obligation, but
not out of faith, and love of God; so too with fasting.
In a truly religious society, according to Soroush, members observe these
obligations with sincerity, and are deeply concerned with maintaining the
role of religion in their private and public lives. 71 Based on this
distinction, Soroush argues that pre-revolutionary Iran was, until a
certain time, only superficially religious. 72 Iranians observed their
religious obligations, but lacked the deep faith that would provide the
basis for a motivating, public religious consciousness. As the Revolution
demonstrated, this faith grew over time, marked by the emergence of both
lay and clerical religious thinkers who prompted society to recognize its
superficiality, and rediscover its faith. 73
The task for Soroush is to describe precisely what constitutes a
"religious society," beyond the rather vague statement that it reflects a
powerful concern to maintain a public role for religion. One major feature
of a religious society has already been mentioned--that it is a society in
which no one understanding of religion prevails, but multiple
understandings coexist. A better understanding of Soroush's notion of a
religious society and its religious consciousness, and the relationship of
this notion to democracy, requires attention to his analysis of the
clerical establishment. This establishment undoubtedly plays a pivotal
role in influencing the public's religious beliefs, and hence in
determining the role of religion in public affairs.
The Clerical Establishment
Soroush's concern that no religious interpretation claim final status has
led him to dismiss Islamic ideology, and any government founded on it. In
discussing the problems of an ideological state, he refers to the negative
impact of state-allied religious ideologues upon the growth of religious
knowledge. While this is a theoretical discussion of an ideological state
in general, Soroush raises similar reservations about the role of the
clerical establishment in contemporary Iran. He argues that the clergy and
the centers of power are related in a way that prohibits the proper
development of religious knowledge. In addition to this relationship,
there are structural problems associated with the clerical establishment
itself. Until these are recognized and reformed, neither religious
knowledge nor public religious consciousness can evolve in the manner
In a religious state such as Iran, led by the faqih who is a member of the
clergy, the role of the clerical establishment (sazman-i rauhaniyat) in
public life is a sensitive one. Members of the Iranian Shi'i 'ulama have
reacted strongly to Soroush's criticisms of the clergy, their method of
religious instruction, and the role of the seminary (hauzah-yi ilmiyah).
Soroush argues that if religious knowledge is to evolve properly, the
seminaries should meet certain conditions. Analysis of traditional
religious texts based on the methods and findings of contemporary natural
and philosophical sciences should be encouraged. Seminary students should
be free to raise deep and wide-ranging questions about these texts. Above
all, religion should not be confused with religious knowledge, and the
respect and sanctity of the former should not be bestowed upon the latter.
The human nature of religious knowledge must be stressed, and students and
teachers should set no boundaries on the study of this knowledge. 74
Soroush acknowledges that this description reflects the ideal, and that
reality reveals another story. Indeed, the distinction between religion
and religious knowledge is not stressed properly in the seminaries.
Criticism of the classic Shi'i texts, produced by religious scholars over
the ages, is interpreted as an attack upon the fundamentals of religion
itself. Seminary students hold back their questions regarding these texts
for fear that they be interpreted as lapses in faith. Soroush holds that
while the boundary separating the core religious texts--the Qur'an, the
hadith, and the teachings of the Imams--from questions of fallibility is
maintained, it also unnecessarily extends to the teachings of select
esteemed, yet nevertheless fallible, religious scholars. Soroush
identifies one reason for this gap between ideal and actual conditions as
the failure among both seminary students and teachers to distinguish
between religious knowledge and religion itself. This results
In a religious state such as Iran, led by the faqih in the elevation of
certain esteemed scholarly religious texts to the same epistemological
status as the core religious texts, entirely removing the former from the
realm of criticism. 75
Such criticisms of the clerical establishment have earned Soroush a good
deal of opposition, part of which can be attributed to the establishment's
natural resistance to change. Reinforced by centuries of custom and
tradition, the Iranian clerical establishment contains considerable
organizational inertia. And when the call for change comes from the
outside--for, regardless of Soroush's revolutionary or religious
credentials, he is not a member of the 'ulama'--organizational interests
demand greater internal solidarity in response to the perceived external
Yet the opposition to Soroush runs far deeper than mere organizational
inertia. In fact, Soroush's criticisms of the seminary method of
instruction carry profound political import. By arguing that religious
knowledge is one branch of human knowledge, and not divine by virtue of
its subject matter, Soroush denies any group the possibility of advancing
one understanding of religion as the truth. And by calling for the use of
a variety of methods in the study of religion, he undermines any one
group's monopoly on religious studies. This dual criticism considerably
weakens the power of both the seminary and the clerical establishment. The
latter is no longer custodian of a final religious truth, and the former
is no longer the sole method for arriving at this truth. The seminary
becomes one among many centers for religious instruction, and the clerical
establishment one among many groups of religious interpreters. The
political consequence of this is that the clerical establishment, no
longer the guardian of the truth, cannot justify a special role for itself
in the political system. If religious knowledge is fluid, and not the sole
property of any one group, then it cannot act as a criterion for
privileging one group over another in political affairs. Members of the
clerical establishment must enter the political arena on a similar playing
field as lay members of society--and their political worth must be judged
on their ability to carry out specific political tasks, not on their
possession of a qualitatively distinct form of religious knowledge.
Soroush's critiques also weaken the internal solidarity of the clerical
establishment. In arguing that all religious theories should be
questioned, he seeks to demonstrate that no theory assume an extra-human,
divine status. A consequence of exposing all theories to criticism is the
weakening of the socializing process within the seminaries. The seminaries
follow a prescribed course of teaching, with prescribed texts, questions,
and stages. These accepted methods, established over centuries of
practice, constitute a key feature of the clerical identity. Any serious
change in this course of teaching--either substantive or
methodological--will result in a change in the socialization process of
seminary students. A wider range of critical thinking, extending to
fundamental reconsideration of pivotal texts or methods, would weaken
internal clerical solidarity and cohesion. This would not only challenge
the established notions of clerical identity, but also weaken the
establishment's ability to advance and defend certain common interests. If
the clerical establishment is unable to maintain a dominant identity, it
also will be unable to agree upon where its group interests lie, and how
best to defend them against rival groups. Taken together, Soroush's
criticisms provide a powerful challenge to the internal structure of the
Beyond these internal criticisms lie deeper ones associated with the role
of the clerical establishment and seminary in Iranian society and
government. Iran possesses a religious government, and "a necessity of a
religious government is the empowerment of the clergy and the seminaries."
76 The clergy, who play an essential role in government, are trained
solely in the seminaries. The seminaries, therefore, enjoy a special link
to the government, one that Soroush argues restricts the range of academic
inquiry in the seminary. Indeed, rather than provide a forum for the open
criticism of religious knowledge and theories, the seminary reaffirms the
ruling religious theories, according to Soroush. The need to encourage a
rational intellectual climate is replaced with the need to teach in
accordance with the ruling dogma. The seminary becomes the "ideologue and
apologist for power," relinquishing its role as critic and teacher:
...rather than guiding and criticizing the ruler, [the seminaries] will
offer opinions and issue fatwas that meet [the rulers'] tastes, or they
will close the door to debate concerning various theoretical issues. If in
the seminaries, for example, the right to discuss the issue of vilayat-i
faqih is not exercised, and opposing and supporting opinions are not
freely exchanged, this is an indicator of a problem that must be removed.
The seminary's social role also undermines its academic integrity and
independence. In addition to its academic responsibilities, the seminary
also trains students to provide moral education for the public. Soroush
argues that in providing public guidance, preachers are often more
concerned with maintaining popularity and expanding their audiences than
in preserving their academic integrity. The result is that the integrity
of religious knowledge is compromised by the need to popularize it. Any
academic institution that assumes the task of public guidance faces this
problem. The seminary must regulate its members and ensure that they do
not vulgarize religion by introducing into sermons arguments that, while
popular, are not based on a careful study of religious texts. 78
The social role of preachers reveals a problem that is endemic to the
clerical establishment itself. Soroush argues that the defining
characteristic of this establishment is not the study of religion, or the
role of public moral guide, or the attachment to political power. It is,
rather, the derivation of income, or social or political status, from some
form of religious activity--principally, academic teaching or preaching.
79 For Soroush, this relationship between religious activity--of any
sort--and the means of one's livelihood is the most pervasive problem
facing the clerical establishment.
Soroush argues that in accruing income (or status) through some form of
religious activity, an individual may compromise the integrity of religion
in order to maximize his or her income. 80 The example of the preacher who
popularizes religion in order to attain a wider audience is applicable
here as well; although it is not income that is sought, but social status.
This is not a problem encountered by the clerical establishment alone,
according to Soroush. In any field, one may have the opportunity to
advance one's livelihood through compromising the integrity of one's
profession. Undoubtedly the establishment possesses methods for
determining and maintaining a certain level of professional capability and
integrity. For example, through required training and examinations the
clerical establishment can set a professional standard for its members. 81
Soroush maintains that while regulation limits the potential for
corruption, it cannot remove it altogether. For him, the individuals who
represent the greatest potential for corruption are those who, after
receiving their religious education, base their livelihood on the
cultivation and defense of a particular notion of Islam. 82 Their
livelihood depends upon the successful advancement of this religious
interpretation, and to maximize the former they may compromise the latter.
Soroush argues that even the existence of a reduced level of possible
corruption should not be tolerated, for this corruption does not
compromise only a professional ethic or standard; it also jeopardizes the
integrity and sanctity of religion. To protect the purity of religion, the
income incentive must be excised entirely from the clerical establishment.
Religion must be removed entirely from the income/status equation:
"religion must [exist] for religion's sake, not [for] financial income,
political power, or social status/esteem." 83 This requires, in effect,
the dissolution of the clerical establishment, for, in Soroush's view, the
only individuals who should pursue religious activity are those who do not
aim to base their livelihood on this activity. The material needs of these
individuals must be met from another source independent of religious
activity before this activity is pursued. 84
By rejecting the existence of a class of individuals deriving income
through religious activity, and arguing instead for the replacement of
this class with self-funded individuals, Soroush severely limits the
potential size of the clerical establishment. In fact as an establishment
it will no longer exist: "In this way an academic society of religious
scholars will come about but not a clerical guild." 85 According to
Soroush what is lost in size is made up for in quality: those individuals
engaged in religious activity are not motivated by personal gain, but by a
sincere desire to understand religion better, and to cultivate this
understanding among the public. 86 Soroush cites the prophet and the Imams
as examples of such sincere individuals. He recognizes that contemporary
scholars and religious activists cannot duplicate the success and depth of
understanding of the prophet and the Imams, but suggests that they should
follow their example and seek religion only for its own sake, and not for
self-aggrandizement. 87 Soroush admits that this is a long-term goal, the
first step of which is the realization of the problematic effects of the
relationship between income and religious activity. 88 This must be
followed by gradual reforms toward the ultimate ends envisioned here.
Soroush does not consider those in the clerical establishment as active
agents in the problems discussed above. Instead, he sees these problems as
an unintended but unavoidable consequence of the clerical establishment's
In other words, the discussion is not about ill intention or ill behavior
on behalf of the clergy. It is about a foundation that grew wrongly....
Freedom should not be sold at any price and the institutionalization [professionalization]
of religious science, has as its first sacrifice the freedom of religious
scholars .... 89
These structural criticisms constitute a serious challenge to the
present-day Iranian clerical establishment. By calling for a divorce
between religious activity and any form of power--financial, political, or
social--Soroush undermines the institutional linkages among the clerical
establishment, the seminary, and the Iranian state. Yet, as Soroush's
critics have asked: How, in the absence of direct clerical involvement in
the government, for the purpose of guarding and maintaining religious
principles, can a government in a religious society be religious?
Soroush's answer lies in part in the "society of religious scholars" that
will replace the clerical guild, and its relation to the public religious
In his comments on the role of the Catholic Church in Europe, Soroush has
provided an implicit example for the Iranian clerical establishment. The
latter is well aware that one of the main features of modern Western
society is the foundation of secular nation-states and the weakening of
Church power within these states. Wishing neither to sacrifice their
social and political influence, nor to watch the religious bases of
society give way to secularism, members of the Iranian clerical
establishment recognize the need to avoid the Catholic Church's
experience. And yet, if one links Soroush's discussion of the Western
experience with his criticisms of the clerical establishment in Iran, it
appears that the latter may--unknowingly and definitely unwillingly--go
the way of their Western counterparts.
Soroush argues that the Western reaction to the power of the Church and
the public role of religion was not necessarily an attack upon religion
itself, but, rather, a response to forces that used religion to prevent
social, intellectual, and political change. 90 Had the Catholic Church not
clung so steadfastly to a particular notion of religion, and had it
allowed for change, then the lay reaction against the Church and religion
would not have been so strong. 91
The implicit lesson for the Iranian clerical establishment is clear:
rather than resist change at all costs to maintain one vision of Islam,
welcome and embrace change. According to this argument, the clerical
establishment in Iran can only avoid the fate of the Catholic Church in
Europe by allowing religious interpretations and theories to be reconciled
with other branches of human knowledge. Likewise, the establishment must
recognize that the best way to maintain a society's faith is not from
above, through the imposition of a religiously-derived notion of
government, but from below, through the continuous process of religious
reinterpretation. Soroush's "society of religious scholars" plays an
essential role in this process.
In discussing the relationship between religion and democracy, Soroush has
had to face the difficulty of relating his concept of social religious
consciousness to practical political affairs. His critics have sought an
explanation for how this social consciousness will guard against the
secularization of society without religious institutions charged with
precisely this task. Soroush's insistence that a government cannot
guarantee the religious nature of society, but rather that society
determines the nature of government, places a heavy burden on the role of
One method for strengthening this consciousness, he argues, is through
allowing and promoting change in religious knowledge. This method requires
denying any one group a monopoly on religious knowledge, and any theory a
privileged status. Beyond these negative injunctions there is also the
need for positive growth in religious interpretations. The "society of
religious scholars" plays a central role in stimulating this growth.
According to Soroush, these individuals engage in religious activity
solely out of a sincere motivation to understand religion, and to spread
this understanding. He identifies individuals such as 'Ali Shariati, Mehdi
Bazargan, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Ayatollah Mutahhari, as representative
of this type of religious activist. Such individuals, he argues, engage in
deep and sincere reflection on religious and social issues. They offer
their notion of Islam to society, not as a model to be copied, but as an
interpretation to be studied, debated, added to, and reformed. Soroush
maintains that the free and lively interaction of these interpretations is
an essential guarantor of a society's continued religious consciousness.
This consciousness, so powerfully informed by these changing
interpretations, will demand that politics remain congruent with religious
For Soroush, the establishment of a democratic government and the reform
of the clerical establishment are necessary, but not sufficient,
conditions for the promotion of an atmosphere conducive to the growth of
religious knowledge. He also argues that cross-cultural interaction plays
an important and necessary role toward this end. In defending the need for
this interaction, he calls for greater dialogue between Iranian and
Relations with the West
Perhaps no other issue provokes such polarized reactions, both in Iran and
abroad, as that of Iranian-Western relations. Within the Western world
there are those who predict a "clash of civilizations" with Islam and
implicitly with Iran, the latter seen as being at the forefront of the
anti-Western battle. In Iran there is an equally heated concern over a
Western "cultural invasion" (tahajum-i farhangi) that allegedly threatens
to undermine the Iranian Islamic cultural identity. Between these two
camps, those who call for a rational dialogue between the two sides run
the risk of being labeled Islamic apologists or supporters of Western
imperialism. Despite the increasingly polarized language of this debate,
there is both the room and necessity for constructive dialogue between
Iranian and Western cultures. Soroush's religious paradigm provides one
way of conceptualizing this dialogue.
Soroush's argument that the religious sciences can grow only when engaged
in an "intimate dialogue" with the non-religious sciences provides the
foundation for intercultural dialogue. The human sciences--understood in
the most comprehensive way as including all the natural and social
sciences--are not restricted by national boundaries. 92 Advancements made
in one country must transcend their country of origin in order to
influence the greater body of international scholarly thought; more
importantly, these advancements can only be made through an interaction
with this wider scholarly community. The religious sciences in Iran, for
example, can develop only when engaged in cross-cultural scholarly
interaction with other sciences.
Soroush defended this position during his time as a member of the
Committee of the Cultural Revolution in Iran. 93 After the 1979 Revolution
in Iran there was a strong backlash against everything Western, including
the human sciences. It was argued that the Iranian higher educational
system should be purged of Western influences, and that the subject matter
and methodology of the system should be Islamicized. Soroush warned that
this kind of thinking would jeopardize the growth of knowledge and aimed
at an impossible task. It would be impossible, he argued, to replace the
social sciences (which were at the forefront of the anti-Western attack)
with Islamicized versions of them. The study of Islam is distinct from
that of other fields, and the religious sciences are incapable of
replacing the social sciences (the reverse is true as well). 94 Soroush
argued that the emphasis should not be on the unification (ittihad) of the
religious and non-religious sciences (in order to Islamicize the latter),
but rather on the interaction (irtibat) between these various fields. 95
By focusing on the links between religious and non-religious knowledge,
the universities could provide students with the necessary Islamic
environment of learning. 96 Soroush argued finally that it is both
possible and necessary to borrow selectively from the West, without
succumbing to a wholesale copying of Western culture. 97 This last point
allowed him to extend his argument to larger issues of Iranian-Western
The catchword for anti-Western sentiments in Iran is gharb-zadagi, or "weststruckness."
98 Soroush's defense of intercultural relations comes partly in response
to this concept. Soroush discerns two main themes in gharb-zadagi
arguments. The first regards any borrowing from the West as blind
imitation and calls for a return to tradition. 99 Soroush rejects this
position on the basis that it treats the West as an unified entity, such
that the appropriation of anything Western is equated with the copying of
the West as an entirety. For Soroush, the West is not a single entity, but
rather a compilation of diverse peoples, each with their own equally
diverse cultures. 100 It is impossible to copy the West as a whole,
because the West as a whole does not exist. Soroush promotes the selective
acceptance of worthy Western achievements and the rejection of aspects of
the West that do not merit borrowing. 101
The second theme argues that Western dominance in all areas--cultural,
political and economic--is a constitutive feature of modernity. The West
has arrived, and neither Iran nor any developing nation can resist its
domination. 102 Gharb-zadagi here is the recognition of and submission to
this unfortunate historical reality. Soroush argues that this position
suffers from a poor reading of history. It assumes the existence of an
irresistible historical force that has placed the West in a dominant and
Iran in a subservient position. It also suggests that, just as Western
culture has fully arrived and proven its hegemony, so too has Iranian
culture fully developed, and proven its weakness. Soroush, on the other
hand, maintains that no culture ever fully arrives, but that all cultures
change over time. To accept the principle of historical inevitability
demands, in this case, the denial of the possibility of cultural change,
and this possibility is a centerpiece of Soroush's argument.
In analyzing intercultural relations, Soroush calls for a move beyond
labels such as gharb-zadagi. He argues that selective borrowing from
Western culture can benefit Iranian culture, provided that this borrowing
is the result of free choice. 103 The only way for Iranian culture to grow
is for it to open itself up to other cultures, to interact critically and
freely with developments from outside of Iran. Selective, freely chosen
interaction with the West does not amount to blind imitation of the West,
and this is the true meaning of gharb-zadagi, according to Soroush. 104
And yet, he maintains that to emphasize Iran's pre-Islamic or Islamic
identity, and to exclude any Western influences, is just as dangerous as
true gharb-zadagi. 105 Excessive nationalism or excessive religious
puritanism threatens the rational climate necessary for cultural
interaction and growth. 106
Soroush's discussion of selective interaction also applies to the process
of development. Modernity, he argues, like the West, should not be
regarded as a single entity. 107 To recognize the diversity of experience
within modernity is to allow for the potential to appropriate the lessons
of some, but not all, of these experiences. Soroush dismisses the claim
that there is only one path to development, which leads ultimately to a
replication of a Westernized notion of modernity. He insists that aspects
of modernity are compatible with a variety of cultures, and that
developing nations may appropriate these aspects and shape them to meet
their own needs without falling victim to an inevitable process of
Westernization. 108 Soroush neither denies the difficulty developing
nations face in balancing cultural identity with development nor considers
this difficulty insuperable. He suggests that among the first steps in
overcoming this problem is for members of developing nations to avoid
general, non-descriptive, dogmatic labels, and to interact rationally,
selectively, and consciously with foreign cultures and concepts. 109
From the conviction that it is impossible to have one definitive
understanding of Islam, Soroush calls for a new look at old issues. He
dismisses Islamic ideology as either a revolutionary tool or a political
platform on the basis that it necessitates an official and fixed
understanding of Islam. This position undermines the legitimacy of any
religious government that seeks to implement one vision of Islam.
Moreover, as man possesses rights that are compatible with, yet not
defined in, religion, a government that rules by a strict religious
interpretation jeopardizes these rights. One of the characteristics of
religion is justice, and today justice entails respect for human rights.
Soroush argues that the only form of government that guarantees human
rights is democracy. Based on the will and faith of the people, a
democratic government does not rule by one religious understanding, but
rather in accordance with the public's religious sentiments. As these
sentiments change, and religious understandings evolve, the government
will reflect these changes. Democracy is essential not only for the
defense of human rights, but also for providing the conditions necessary
for the growth of religious knowledge.
Among the first steps toward these conditions is the reform of the
clerical establishment and the method of religious instruction. The
relationships between religious activity and personal gain and the
seminary and political power, must be severed in order for a new society
of religious scholars to emerge. These individuals will play an essential
role in contributing to society's religious consciousness, a central
element in Soroush's notion of democracy.
The growth of this consciousness--of Iranian culture in general--requires
a broad vision that recognizes the importance of intercultural relations.
This recognition demands the rejection of both the principle of historical
inevitability and the notion of unified cultural entities; a challenge to
those who envision "Islam and the West" as being on an irrevocable
The issues Soroush addresses, from Islamic ideology to relations with the
West, are core issues in post-revolutionary Iran. His ideas reflect a
sober assessment of the experience of the last seventeen years, from
within an Islamic framework. Neither Westernized nor secular, Soroush
represents the revolutionary system criticizing itself. He has revealed
that this system is capable of some degree of fundamental self-criticism,
and in doing so he has identified the most critical and sensitive
political topics in contemporary Iran. He also reveals the inaccuracy of
the view that Iran is a static society permeated by an unchanging vision
of Islamic ideology.
Soroush's work is important not only within Iran, but also within the
context of the contemporary Muslim world; for Soroush represents the
diversity of present-day Muslim encounters with Islam and politics.
Influenced by both Islamic and Western ideas, yet neither dominated nor
limited by either, Soroush resists broad categorization. He is neither a
radical ideologue nor a detached secularist, neither revolutionary nor
passive. To understand Soroush--and to understand contemporary Muslim
thinkers--requires the abandonment of generalizing labels and the
embracement of nuanced distinctions. Surely it is this form of rational
interaction, rather than the espousal of apocalyptic notions of a clash of
civilizations or of a cultural invasion, that Western and Muslim societies
Note 1: In the spring of 1996, a number of
Soroush's lectures at the University of Tehran were disrupted by student
groups opposed to his views. This followed upon similar, prior incidents
at other universities. Soroush responded with an open letter to the
President of the Islamic Republic, Hujjat al-Islam va al-Muslamin Hashemi
Rafsanjani, in which he protested the treatment he received. For the text
of this letter see Salam (13 May 1996): 24; and Kiyan 6, no. 30 (1996):
48. Consequently, due to the unwillingness or inability of authorities to
guarantee his security, Soroush decided to suspend lecturing in Iran until
such a guarantee is made. He has since then been on sabbatical, lecturing
at universities and institutions abroad, including many in Western Europe
and North America. For his present condition, in his own words, see the
interview with him by the editorial board of Kiyan, "Barnamah-ha-yi Duktur
Surush Baray-i Huzur dar Muhafil-i Danishgahi va Farhangi-yi Jahan" (Dr.
Soroush's Plans for Appearance at University and Cultural Centers
throughout the World), Kiyan 6, no. 32 (1996): 68-69.
Note 2: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Qabz va Bast
dar Mizan-i Naqd va Bahs" (Qabz va Bast at the Level of Critique and
Discussion) Kiyan 1, no. 2 (1991): 5. A full elaboration of Soroush's
theory of religion can be found in Abdolkarim Soroush, Qabz va Bast-i
Tiorik-i Shari'at (The Theoretical Contraction and Expansion of the
Shari'a), (Tehran: Mu'assassah-yi Farhangi-yi Sirat, 1990). Qabz va Bast-i
Tiorik-i Shari'at originally appeared as four separate articles in the
monthly journal Kayhan-i Farhangi, from 1988-1990. The publication of the
articles sparked a controversial debate within Iranian intellectual
circles, reflected within the pages of Kayhan-i Farhangi. For a summary of
this debate, see Mehrzad Boroujerdi, "The Encounter of Post-Revolutionary
Thought in Iran with Hegel, Heidegger, and Popper," in Cultural
Transitions in the Middle East, ed. Serif Mardin (New York: E.J. Brill,
Note 3: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
Note 4: "Qabz va Bast dar Mizan-i Naqd va
Note 5: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
Note 6: Ibid., 156.
Note 7: Ibid., 147, 162. See also Abdolkarim
Soroush, 'Ilm Chiist? Falsafah Chiist? (What is Science? What is
Philosophy?), 10th ed. (Tehran: Mu'assissah-yi Farhangi-yi Sirat, 1987),
23, 108. Soroush admits his own worldview is based on the philosophical
school of realism, in which there is a difference between an object (i.e.,
religion) and the perception of an object (i.e., religious understanding).
For a criticism of this realist position, see Ahmad Naraqi, "Fahm-i 'Amiqtar?"
(A Deeper Understanding?), Kiyan 3, no. 11 (1993): 16-20.
Note 8: He identifies cosmology,
anthropology, linguistics and epistemology as the non-religious sciences
that most influence the study of religion. See Abdolkarim Soroush, "Pasukh
bih Naqd-Namah-yi Sabat va Taghir dar Andishah-yi Dini" (Reply to the
Critical Essay Constancy and Change in Religious Thought), Kiyan 2, no. 7
Note 9: Ibid.; and "Qabz va Bast dar Mizan-i
Naqd va Bahs," 10.
Note 10: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
Note 11: "Qabz va Bast dar Mizan-i Naqd va
Bahs," 11. Also, Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at, 118.
Note 12: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
Note 13: Ibid., 24; and 'Ilm Chiist?
Falsafah Chiist?, 211, 221.
Note 14: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
44, 120; and "Pasukh bih Naqd-Namah-yi Sabat va Taghir dar Andishah-yi
Note 15: Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at,
Note 16: Ibid., 104.
Note 17: See Abdolkarim Soroush, "Farbih-tar
az Idiuluji" (More Comprehensive than Ideology), Kiyan 3, no. 13 (1993):
2-20. For a criticism of this article, see Jahangir Salihpur, "Naqdi bar
Nazariyah-yi Farbih-tar az Idiuluji" (A Critique of the View More
Comprehensive than Ideology), Kiyan 3, no. 15 (1993): 47-49; and by the
same author, "Din-i 'Asri dar 'Asr-i Idiuluji" (Modern Religion in the Age
of Ideology), Kiyan 4, no. 18 (1994): 36-41. "Farbih tar az Idiuluji,"
together with many of Soroush's other Kiyan articles, was later collected
and printed in a book by the same name. See Abdolkarim Soroush, Farbih-tar
az Idiuluji (More Comprehensive than Ideology), (Tehran: Mu'assassah-yi
Farhangi-yi Sirat, 1993). As many of Soroush's books are collections of
articles or speeches originally published or delivered elsewhere, the
titles of the books often do not reveal the content of the individual
chapters. Hence most chapters are referred to here by their individual
Note 18: "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji," 4.
Note 19: Ibid.
Note 20: For Soroush's views on Shari'ati,
see, among others, "Shari'ati va Jama'ah-Shinasi-yi Din" (Shari'ati and
the Sociology of Religion), Kiyan 3, no. 13 (1993): 2-12; and "Duktur
Shari'ati va Baz-sazi-yi Fikr-i Dini" (Dr. Shari'ati and the
Reconstruction of Religious Thought) in Abdolkarim Soroush, Qissah-yi
Arbab-i Ma'rifat (The Tale of the Masters of Knowledge), (Tehran:
Mu'assassah-yi Farhangi-yi Sirat, 1994), 381-440. For an overview of the
ideological background of the Islamic Revolution, see Hamid Dabashi,
Theology of Discontent: the Ideological Foundations of the Islamic
Revolution in Iran, (New York: New York University Press, 1993).
Note 21: "Din, Idiuluji, va Ta'bir-i
Idiulujik az Din" (Religion, Ideology, and the Ideological Interpretation
of Religion), Farhang-i Tous'eh 1, no. 5 (1993): 11-12. This is a
roundtable discussion on ideology in which Soroush participated.
Note 22: Ibid., 10-12.
Note 23: "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji," 13.
Note 24: Soroush raises this argument in
the context of Shari'ati's thought. For Shari'ati both promoted the
ideologization of society and opposed the existence of an official class
of religious interpreters. Soroush identifies this tension and argues
that, had Shari'ati realized the essential connection between an
ideological society and state-allied ideologues, he would not have
supported an ideological society. For Shari'ati's discussion of this, see
'Ali Shari'ati, Tashayyu'-i 'Alavi va Tashayyu'-i Safavi ('Alavi Shi'ism
and Safavi Shi'ism), collected works vol. 9, (Tehran: Intisharat-i
Tashayyu', 1980). For Soroush on Shari'ati, see "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji,"
Note 25: "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji," 13. See
also Abdolkarim Soroush, "'Aql va Azadi" (Reason and Freedom), Kiyan 1,
no. 5 (1992): 13-25.
Note 26: "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji," 13.
Note 27: Ibid., 19.
Note 28: Ibid., 8.
Note 29: Ibid.
Note 30: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Idiuluji-yi
Dini va Din-i Idiulujik" (Religious Ideology and Ideological Religion),
Kiyan 3, no. 16 (1993-1994): 25.
Note 31: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Jama'ah-yi
Payambar Pasand" (A Society Admired by the Prophet), Kiyan 3, no. 17
Note 32: "Bavar-i Dini, Davar-i Dini"
(Religious Belief, Religious Arbiter), in Farbih-tar az Idiuluji, 49.
Note 33: Ibid.
Note 34: Ibid., 50.
Note 35: Ibid., 52. For a discussion of the
task government faces in distributing justice, see Abdolkarim Soroush,
"Danish va Dadgari" (Knowledge and the Administration of Justice), Kiyan
4, no. 22 (1994-1995): 10-15.
Note 36: "Bavar-i Dini, Davar-i Dini," 52.
Note 37: Ibid., 50.
Note 38: Ibid., 52.
Note 39: Ibid., 57.
Note 40: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Khadamat va
Hasanat-i Din" (The Functions and Benefits of Religion), Kiyan 5, no. 27
(1994): 12, 13. Soroush argues here that God did not give religion to man
as a blueprint for the ordering of his external life, but rather as a
guide to teach man the inner order necessary to prepare for the afterlife.
For a related discussion, see "Din-i Dunyavi" (Worldly Religion), Iran-i
Farda 4, no. 23 (1995-1996): 50-53.
Note 41: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Saqf-i
Ma'ishat bar Sutun-i Shari'at" (The Ceiling of Livelihood upon the Pillar
of the Shari'a), Kiyan 5, no. 26 (1995): 28. See also Abdolkarim Soroush,
"Ma'na va Mabna-yi Sikularizm" (The Meaning and Basis of Secularism),
Kiyan 5, no. 26 (1995): 4-13; "Khadamat va Hasanat-i Din," 13; and
Abdolkarim Soroush, "Idiuluji va Din-i Dunyavi" (Ideology and This-Worldly
Religion), Kiyan 6, no. 31 (1996): 2-11.
Note 42: "Saqf-i Ma'ishat bar Sutun-i
Note 43: "Farbih-tar az Idiuluji," 11.
Note 44: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Tahlil-i
Mafhum-i Hukumat-i Dini" (Analysis of the Concept of Religious
Government), Kiyan 6, no. 32 (1996): 2.
Note 45: See "Arkan-i Farhangi-yi Dimukrasi"
(The Cultural Pillars of Democracy), in Farbih-tar az Idiuluji, 269-272;
and "Mabani Tiorik-i Libiralizm" (The Theoretical Bases of Liberalism), in
Abdolkarim Soroush, Razdani va Raushanfikri va Dindari (Augury and
Intellectualism and Pietism), 2nd ed. (Tehran: Mu'assassah-yi Farhangi-yi
Sirat, 1993), 153-154. For an early discussion on democracy in the context
of the Islamic Republic, see "Musahabah-yi Duktur Surush ba Ustad Shahid
Piramun-i Jumhuri Islami" (Dr. Soroush's Interview with the Martyred
Professor on the Islamic Republic), in Murtaza Mutahhari, Piramun-i
Inqilab-i Islami (On the Islamic Revolution), 15th ed. (Tehran:
Intisharat-i Sadra, 1995), 125-141.
Note 46: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Hukumat-i
Dimukratik-i Dini?" (A Religious Democratic Government?), Kiyan 3, no. 11
Note 47: "Hukumat-i Dimukratik-i Dini?,"
12. For a related discussion, see Abdolkarim Soroush, "Akhlaq-i Khudayan:
Akhlaq-i Bar-tar Vujud Nadarad" (The Morality of the Gods: There is no
Higher Morality), Kiyan 4, no. 18 (1994): 22-32; and "Az Tarikh Biamuzim"
(Let us Learn from History), in Abdolkarim Soroush, Taffaruj-i Sun':
Guftarhay-yi dar Maqulat-i Akhlaq va Sa'nat va 'Ilm-i Insani (Taffaruj-i
Sun': Essays on Human Sciences, Ethics, and Art), (Tehran: Intisharat-i
Surush, 1987), 265.
Note 48: "Hukumat-i Dimukratik-i Dini?,"
Note 49: Ibid.
Note 50: "Bavar-i Dini, Davar-i Dini," 56;
and "Hukumat-i Dimukratik-i Dini?" 14-15.
Note 51: "Bavar-i Dini, Davar-i Dini," 56.
Note 52: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Mudara va
Mudiriyat-i Mu'minan, Sukhani dar Nisbat-i Din va Dimukrasi" (The
Tolerance and Administration of the Faithful, a Talk on the Relationship
between Religion and Democracy), Kiyan 4, no. 21 (1994): 11. This issue of
Kiyan is devoted entirely to discussions of religion and democracy, and
includes three articles in response to Soroush's "Hukumat-i Dimukratik-i
Note 53: "Bavar-i Dini, Davar-i Dini," 51.
Note 54: "Mudara va Mudiriyat-i Mu'minan,
Sukhani dar Nisbat-i Din va Dimukrasi," 4.
Note 55: Ibid., 8.
Note 56: Ibid.
Note 57: For articles critical of Soroush's
position on democracy, see 'Aliriza 'Alavi, "Hakimiyat-i Mardum dar
Jama'ah-yi Dindaran" (The Rule of the People in the Society of the
Religious), Kiyan 4, no. 22 (1994-1995): 26-30; Hasan Yusifi Ashkuri, "Paraduks-i
Islam va Dimukrasi?" (The Paradox of Islam and Democracy?), Kiyan 4, no.
21 (1994): 24-29; Maqsud Farastkhah, "Rabitah-yi Din va Siyasat dar
Jama'ah-yi Dini" (The Relationship between Religion and Politics in a
Religious Society) Kiyan 4, no. 18 (1994): 33-35; Bijan Hikmat, "Mardum-Salari
va Din-Salari" (Leadership of the People and Leadership of Religion),
Kiyan 4, no. 21 (1994): 16-23; Muhammad Javad Ghulamriza Kashi, "Chand
Pursish va Yik Nazar Piramun-i Nazariyah-yi Hukumat-i Dimukratik-i Dini"
(A Few Questions and a Position on the View A Religious Democratic
Government), Kiyan 3, no. 14 (1993): 26-31; Majid Muhammadi, "Ghusl-i
Ta'mid- Sikularizm ya Nijat-i Din" (The Ceremonial Baptism of Secularism
or the Rescue of Religion), Kiyan 4, no. 21 (1994): 30-34; Hamid Paidar, "Paraduks-i
Islam va Dimukrasi" (The Paradox of Islam and Democracy), Kiyan 4, no. 19
(1994): 20-27; Jahangir Salihpur, "Din-i Dimukratik-i Hukumati" (A Ruling
Democratic Religion), Kiyan 4, no. 20 (1994): 6-11; and Murad Saqafi, "Mardum
va Farhang-i Mardum dar Andishah-yi Siyasi-yi Shari'ati va Surush" (People
and the Culture of People in the Political Thought of Shari'ati and
Soroush), Goft-o Gu 1, no. 2 (1993-1994): 25-39. See also the 7 November
1995 issue of Subh, entitled "Vijah-yi Barrasi-yi Ara' va 'Aqa'id-i Duktur
Surush" (A Special Analysis of the Opinions and Ideas of Dr. Soroush),
which contains thirteen critical articles by various Iranian thinkers.
Note 58: Paidar, 22-27.
Note 59: "Mudara va Mudiriyat-i Mu'minan,
Sukhani dar Nisbat-i Din va Dimukrasi," 6, 14.
Note 60: Although Soroush does not use the
term "social consciousness" in his argument, it is the present author's
opinion that this is the best English equivalent of Soroush's position.
Note 61: Farastkhah, 33-34; Hikmat, 21.
Note 62: Farastkhah, 33-35; Muhammadi, 33.
Note 63: Farastkhah, 34; Hikmat, 23;
Note 64: Muhammadi, 33.
Note 65: Ibid.
Note 66: "Khadamat va Hasanat-i Din," 12.
Note 67: Ibid., 14.
Note 68: Hikmat, 22; Muhammadi, 32.
Note 69: "Mudara va Mudiriyat-i Mu'minan,
Sukhani dar Nisbat-i Din va Dimukrasi," 9.
Note 70: "Musalmani va Abadi, Kafiri va
Kam-Rushdi" (Muslimness and Develop-ment, Unbelief and Underdevelopment),
in Farbih-tar az Idiuluji, 315-317.
Note 71: Ibid.
Note 72: Ibid., 312.
Note 73: Soroush raises this point in
discussing the role of Ayatullah Khomeini as a religious revivalist. See
Abdolkarim Soroush, "Aftab-i Diruz va Kimyayi-yi Imruz" (Yesterday's Light
and Today's Guide), Kayhan-i Farhangi 6, no. 3 (1988): 4-7. For a related
discussion, see Abdolkarim Soroush, "Dark-i 'Azizanah-yi Din" (The Sincere
Perception of Religion), Kiyan 4, no. 19 (1994): 2-9.
Note 74: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Intizarat-i
Danishgah az Hauzah" (The University's Expectations of the Seminary),
Salam (5 January 1993), 5, 8. See also Abdolkarim Soroush, "Taqlid va
Tahqiq dar Suluk-i Danish-juyi" (Imitation and Investigation in University
Student Behavior), Kiyan 1, no. 1 (1991): 12-17.
Note 75: "Intizarat-i Danishgah az Hauzah,"
5. For a highly critical response to "Intizarat-i Danishgah az Hauzah,"
see Ayatullah Nasir Makarim-Shirazi, "Bih Aqidah-yi Man Majmu'ah-yi in
Sukhanrani 'Avvam-zadagi-yi 'Ajibi ast" (In My Opinion the Whole of this
Talk Reflects Extreme Vulgarism), Salam (5 January 1993): 8.
Note 76: Ibid.
Note 77: Ibid.
Note 78: Ibid.
Note 79: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Hurriyat va
Rauhaniyat" (Freedom and the Clerical Establishment), Kiyan 4, no. 24
(1995): 4. This article led to a heated debate in Iran, in which the
Leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei, commented
indirectly yet unmistakably to Soroush's criticisms. See Ittilaat (Tehran
edition), 10 September 1995, p. 7; and "Saqf-i Ma'ishat bar Sutun-i
Shari'at," 31. In order to prevent the further politicization of the
discussion, the editors of Kiyan decided in their October-November 1995
issue to cease publishing any articles related to "Hurriyat va Rauhaniyat."
See Kiyan 5, no. 27 (1995): 2. For an extremely critical response to
Soroush's position, see "Harf-ha-yi Kuhnah va Malal-Avar dar Zar-Varaq-i
Andishah va Taffakur" (Old and Tiresome Words under the Cover of Thought
and Reflection), Subh (2 January 1996), 7, 14.
Note 80: "Hurriyat va Rauhaniyat," 4. This
is an issue with which Ayatullah Mutahhari was also concerned, although
Soroush's position is considerably more far-reaching than Mutahhari's. For
an article that questions Soroush's reading of Mutahhari, and challenges
his description of the clerical establishment, see Ali Mutahhari, "Ustad
Mutahhari va Hall-i Mushkil-i Sazman-i Rauhaniyat" (Professor Mutahhari
and the Solution of the Problem of the Clerical Establishment), Kiyan 5,
no. 25 (1995): 12-15.
Note 81: Ibid., 5.
Note 82: "Saqf-i Ma'ishat bar Sutun-i
Note 83: "Hurriyat va Rauhaniyat," 6.
Note 84: Ibid., 8.
Note 85: Ibid.
Note 86: Ibid., 8-9.
Note 87: Ibid., 8. For an example of the
type of religious activist Soroush envisions, see his article on the
recently deceased Mehdi Bazargan, "An kih bih Nam Bazargan bud nah bih
Sifat" (He who was a Merchant in Name, not in Character), Kiyan 4, no. 23
(1995): 12-20. The article's title is a play on words that reveals the
essence of Soroush's point. Bazargan in Persian means merchant, and
Soroush argues that Mehdi Bazargan was a merchant in name alone, and not
in character, as he would not compromise or sell his belief in religion.
Although written before his criticisms of the clerical establishment, this
provides an excellent illustration of Soroush's ideal religious activist.
Note 88: Personal communication with
Soroush, 27 November 1995.
Note 89: "Hurriyat va Rauhaniyat," 10.
Note 90: See "Sih Farhang" (Three
Cultures), in Razdani va Raushanfikri va Dindari, 146.
Note 91: Ibid.
Note 92: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Ma'rifat,
Mu'allifah-yi Mumtaz-i Mudernizm" (Knowledge, the Distinguished Products
of Modernism), Kiyan 4, no. 20 (1994): 5; "'Ulum-i Insani dar Nizam-i
Danishgahi" (The Human Sciences in the University System), in Taffaruj-i
Sun', 198, 199; and Boroujerdi, 242.
Note 93: For Soroush's position on the
relationship between the religious and non-religious sciences, within the
context of the Cultural Revolution, see "'Ulum-i Insani dar Nizam-i
Danishgahi," 190-202; and "Huvviyat-i Tarikhi-i va Ijtima'yi-yi 'Ilm" (The
Historical and Social Identity of Knowledge), in Taffaruj-i Sun', 203-227.
Note 94: "'Ulum-i Insani dar Nizam-i
Note 95: Ibid.
Note 96: Ibid., 200-202.
Note 97: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Gharbiyan va
Husn va Qubh va Shu'un va Atvar-i Anan" (The Westerners and their
Goodness, Baseness, Honors and Manners), Kayhan-i Farhangi 1, no. 2
(1984): 17; and "Sih Farhang," 117.
Note 98: For the classic articulation of
gharb-zadagi, see Jalal Al-i Ahmad, Gharb-zadagi (Weststruckness),
(Tehran: Intisharat-i Ravaq, 1962). For English translations, see Ahmad
Alizadeh and John Green, Weststruckness, (Lexington, KY: Mazda Publishers,
1982); R. Campbell, Occidentosis: A Plague from the West, (Berkeley: Mizan
Press, 1984); or Paul Sprachman, Plagued by the West, (Delmar, NY: Caravan
Note 99: "Sih Farhang," 111-112; and "Vujud
va Mahiyat-i Gharb" (The Existence and Essence of the West), in Taffaruj-i
Note 100: "Gharbiyan va Husn va Qubh va
Shu'un va Atvar-i Anan," 15; "Sih Farhang," 111; and "Vujud va Mahiyat-i
Note 101: "Sih Farhang," 112; and "Vujud
va Mahiyat-i Gharb," 250. For Soroush's position in relation to his
critics, see Boroujerdi, 242-244.
Note 102: "Vujud va Mahiyat-i Gharb,"
Note 103: "Gharbiyan va Husn va Qubh va
Shu'un va Atvar-i Anan," 18; and "Sih Farhang," 119-121.
Note 104: "Sih Farhang," 128.
Note 105: Ibid.
Note 106: On the potential dangers of a
religious society in which the excessive intensity of religious faith
threatens the rational climate Soroush envisions, see Abdolkarim Soroush,
"Dindari va Khardvarzi" (Pietism and Rationalism), Kiyan 3, no. 12 (1993):
Note 107: See "Ma'rifat, Mu'allifah-yi
Note 108: Abdolkarim Soroush, "Ma'ishat va
Fazilat" (Livelihood and Virtue), Kiyan 5, no. 25 (1995): 9.
"Musalmani va Abadi, Kafiri va Kam-Rushdi," 334. In one of his early
post-revolutionary works, Soroush lamented the increasingly dogmatic,
polarized language of intellectual debate in Iran. See Abdolkarim Soroush,
Idiuluji-yi Shaitani: Dugmatizm-i Niqabdar (Satanic Ideology: Masked
Dogmatism), 4th ed. (Tehran: Intisharat-i Baran, 1982).