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Revolution and its Discontents
Political Thought and Reform in Iran


Part of The Global Middle East

  • Date Published: June 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108445061

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About the Authors
  • The death of the Islamic Republic's revolutionary patriarch, Ayatollah Khomeini, the bitter denouement of the Iran-Iraq War, and the marginalisation of leading factions within the political elite, in tandem with the end of the Cold War, harboured immense intellectual and political repercussions for the Iranian state and society. It was these events which created the conditions for the emergence of Iran's post-revolutionary reform movement, as its intellectuals and political leaders sought to re-evaluate the foundations of the Islamic state's political legitimacy and religious authority. In this monograph, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, examines the rise and evolution of reformist political thought in Iran and analyses the complex network of publications, study circles, and think-tanks that encompassed a range of prominent politicians and intellectuals in the 1990s. In his meticulous account of the relationships between the post-revolutionary political class and intelligentsia, he explores a panoply of political and ideological issues still vital to understanding Iran's revolutionary state, such as the ruling political theology of the 'Guardianship of the Jurist', the political elite's engagement with questions of Islamic statehood, democracy and constitutionalism, and their critiques of revolutionary agency and social transformation.

    • Presents an in-depth intellectual history of Iran's reform movement
    • Highlights Muslim thinkers' contributions to political and theological debates in modern Iran
    • Connects Iran's intellectual history to the wider intellectual debates of the global Cold War
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi's Revolution and its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran caps a long and illustrious body of scholarship relentlessly articulating Iranian intellectual history in the course of a fateful encounter with colonial modernity. Like a virtuoso sailer he navigates judiciously through some troublesome seas to carry forward the work done by his elders to new an exiting shores unforeseen at the dawn of an Islamist turn in contemporary Iranian history. With this masterful book, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi has joined the happy few.' Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University, New York

    'This is a masterful and highly readable analysis of the aspirations as well as the trials and tribulations of the 'religious intelligentsia' in the Islamic Revolution. It is essential reading for anyone intrigued by the question whether the term 'religious intelligentsia' is a contradiction in terms.' Ervand Abrahamian, Bernard M. Baruch College, City University of New York

    'The publication of Revolution and Its Discontents marks so much more than a groundbreaking book that deepens and widens our understanding of the dynamic nature of Iranian politics and religious thought since the 1979 Revolution. It also marks the arrival of a major new scholar to the field of Iranian studies. Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi combines deep intimacy with all the relevant sources, profound analytical skills, and uncommon grace in making comparative and theoretical moves that bring the material from Iran into a robust dialogue with global trends. Most enthusiastically recommended for all scholars of Iranian studies, Middle Eastern Studies, Islamic Studies, post-colonial studies, and beyond.' Omid Safi, Duke University, North Carolina

    'This fascinating book re-interprets the post-revolutionary ideological topography of the Islamic Republic of Iran through a careful reading of the works of religious intellectuals and Islamist Left in Iran. Sadeghi-Boroujerdi complicates simplistic binary categorisation of the partisans of the Islamic Republic as reformist/hardliners to show us the broad range of political, economic, and religious ideologies of the country's political elite.' Laleh Khalili, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

    'An erudite interrogation of the intellectual bases of the Reform Movement in Iran. An intellectual history of the first order, Sadeghi-Boroujerdi's analytical narrative dissects the intellectual vitality of a movement that struggled to define itself within a political environment that proved increasingly unsettling.' Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews, Scotland

    'Sadeghi-Boroujerdi offers a theoretically sophisticated and empirically rich study of the emergence of a vibrant intellectual community in postrevolutionary Iran. His analysis takes the reader beyond the simple binaries of religious versus secular intellectuals and shows with an exemplary clarity the plurality of sources with reference to which those intellectuals intervene in politics and cultural production in the contemporary Iranian society.' Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, Princeton University, New Jersey

    'Iran is the only country to have experienced an Islamic revolution, giving reality to a long-standing Islamist dream. This revolution and the regime it established have defined Muslim politics around the world for and against Iran. But having been achieved, the revolution also gave rise to post-Islamist thought in Iran. Seeking to surpass rather than reject the revolution, these thinkers provide a fascinating insight into the future of Islam. Sadeghi-Boroujerdi's book represents the most sophisticated analysis yet written of post-Islamism as a form of political thought, one that will likely shape our world in unforeseen ways.' Faisal Devji, University of Oxford

    'The overthrow of a brutal monarch opened up in Iran questions that, as recent events show, are far from being settled in even so-called advanced democracies: What is a 'people', and who gets to represent it? Khomeini imposed his own answers. But, contrary to what the exponents of Muslim medievalism alleged, his Islamic republicanism, which required regular elections as well as clerical 'guardianship', was an ultra-modern invention. Khomeini literally forged a tradition of clerical Shiism. More importantly, it has been consistently challenged, most strikingly from within its old guard, as Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi brilliantly describes in his new book Revolution and Its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran.' Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg Opinion (

    'This is a brilliant book dealing with the religious politics of Iran since the 1978 Islamic Revolution.' R. W. Olson, Choice

    'Revolution and its Discontents is beautifully written, theoretically solid, and offers a rich and engaging analysis of the intellectual reformist milieu in Iran between the early 1990s and the mid-2000s, through the protagonists' own voices and written production … this remains an extremely relevant, accurate, and engaging work published on the intellectual history of Iran in the post-Cold war era, able to speak not only to scholars of modern Iran, but to all historians and social scientists interested in revolutionary and reformist movements.' Paola Rivetti, International Journal of Middle East Studies

    'The magnificent book under review goes a long way in demystifying the Iranian reform movement of the 1990s and early 2000s … Revolution and its Discontents should be particularly praised for transcending the all too insular conventional discussions of Iranian political thought.' Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, Political Theology

    'Sadeghi-Boroujerdi's willingness to astutely and clearly address the limitations of reformist thought in Iran, which are often downplayed or even avoided, is one of the book's greatest strengths. Since he convincingly manages to situate these debates and their inspirations firmly within the context of post-Cold War liberalism, Revolution and Its Discontents should be particularly praised for transcending the all too insular conventional discussions of Iranian political thought.' Simon Wolfgang Fuchs, Political Theology

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108445061
    • length: 455 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 23 mm
    • weight: 0.65kg
    • contains: 1 table
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Religious intellectuals, reform and the struggle for hegemony
    2. Constructing Behesht-e Jahan: Islam, the clergy and the state
    3. Political genealogies of reform: the rowshanfekran-e dini and the Islamic left
    4. Revolution and its discontents: ideology and the death of utopia
    5. Free faith, democratic governance and the 'official reading' of religion
    6. Khatami, the 2nd of Khordad front and the pedagogics of pluralism
    7. Sa'id Hajjariyan and reformist strategy: sovereign disenchantment and the politics of participation

  • Author

    Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, University of Oxford
    Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford and Postdoctoral Associate at St Cross College, Oxford. He has taught at the University of Oxford, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of Exeter. Sadeghi-Boroujerdi was Associate Editor at the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies from 2014 to 2017 and is Series Editor of Radical Histories of the Middle East (Oneworld). His writings on Iran have been widely published in academic journals and the international media, including the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Iranian Studies, Digest of Middle East Studies, Middle East Journal, Foreign Policy, Jadaliyya, Al Jazeera, Lobelog, Muftah, Jacobin, and The Guardian.

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