For nearly three decades now, Iran has attracted much of the world's attention as a supposed bastion of radical Islam, a key player in the global war on terrorism, and a central force in – and often an alleged cause of – turmoil in one of the most unstable regions of the world. The considerable focus thus directed at Iran's volatile internal politics and its foreign relations has all too often overshadowed attention to more subtle developments unfolding inside the country, particularly among its learned elites and opinion makers. That these unfolding dynamics are of profound and long-term cultural and intellectual consequences makes detailed and careful attention to them all the more imperative.
This chapter argues that the evolving direction of Iran's 1978–79 revolution, from its inception up to the present, and the trials and travails of Iranians as a whole over the last quarter century have given rise to three competing worldviews, three discourses, each of which advance their own interpretations of the present and the ideal path to follow in the future. In broad terms, these discourses can be categorized as religious conservative, religious reformist, and secular-modernist.
The religious conservative discourse can be most readily identified with the religio-political establishment that came to power after the revolution's success. It seeks to explain the world, and more specifically its vision of the ideal social and political order, in terms that it claims most closely reflect the letter and the spirit of the arguments of the regime's founder, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini.
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