Academic Philosophy, the University, and the Politics of Knowledge in Modern Iran

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Academic Philosophy
University of Tehran

This thesis inquires into the relationship between academic philosophy and the development of an Iranian state in the twentieth century. It traces the introduction and utilization of Western philosophy within mainly modern academic institutions by state-employed academic philosophers, beginning in the Nasseri era and as a response to European encroachments. Based, in the main, on the prosopography and textual sources of successive generations of Iranian academic philosophers, this thesis contextualizes the process through which Western academic philosophy began as an ingredient in the comprehension of a superior mode of knowledge in the Reza Shah period, became part of a dialectic for the progression of knowledge in the Mohammad Reza Shah period, and eventually ended up the validator of an independent and national epistemology in the Republican period. In particular, through translation and training, the academics that introduced Western works of philosophy into Farsi imprinted an Islamic affinity on them. Thus, Western philosophy was understood through the lens of Islamic philosophy in a relational manner that influenced subsequent research and instruction of philosophy at the University of Tehran leading to the observation that Islamic philosophy never left Iran’s intellectual space. Furthermore, academic philosophy came to be understood as a tool and an object in modern Iran leading to its instrumentalization and politicization. Consequently, academic philosophy was employed as the rational medium in acculturation and nationalism as Iran transitioned to a modern state. Selective works of Western philosophy were interpreted and promoted based on Iran’s relationship to its benefactor, alternating between Britain and the United States in the twentieth-century. This thesis argues that the generation-based, intellectual product of this selective process of conformity and contestation manifests in three periods of philosophical orientation leading to the politicization of philosophy in twentieth-century Iran. These periods produced academics that were engaged, in the main, in what I refer to as the philosophies of the reform movement (roshangarai), the philosophies of Westoxication (gharbzadegi), and the philosophies of hybridity (zu-janbatin). In a little more than a hundred years since its first translation into Farsi, Western philosophy had become a political instrument of the state.

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Senior supervisor: 
Derryl MacLean
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of History
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.