Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Iran May Purge Universities in Social Sciences and Humanities

In the NYTimes:

September 2, 2009
Purge of Iranian Universities Is Feared

CAIRO — As Iran’s universities prepare to start classes this month, there is growing concern within the academic community that the government will purge political and social science departments of professors and curriculums deemed “un-Islamic,” according to academics and political analysts inside and outside Iran.


Ayatollah Khamenei said this week that the study of social sciences “promotes doubts and uncertainty.” He urged “ardent defenders of Islam” to review the human sciences that are taught in Iran’s universities and that he said “promote secularism,” according to Iranian news services.

“Many of the humanities and liberal arts are based on philosophies whose foundations are materialism and disbelief in godly and Islamic teachings,” Ayatollah Khamenei said at a gathering of university students and professors on Sunday, according to IRNA, the state news agency. Teaching those “sciences leads to the loss of belief in godly and Islamic knowledge.”

For years, the study of subjects like philosophy and sociology has been viewed suspiciously by Iranian conservatives. During the earliest days of the Islamic Revolution, the nation’s leaders closed universities and tried to sanitize curriculums to fit their Islamic revolutionary ideology. The efforts ultimately failed under the weight of more pragmatic forces eager to engage with Western economies, and a student population hungry for contemporary ideas and contact with the West.


The state’s renewed focus on education took center stage last week when the confession of a prominent reformer, Saeed Hajjarian, who had been the theoretician behind the reform movement, was read in court and broadcast on national television.

The confession, dismissed by reform leaders as a reflection of the views of Mr. Hajjarian’s jailers, provided a lengthy criticism of human sciences, especially sociology and political science. It lamented the negative influence of theories like “post-structuralism, post-Marxism and feminism.”

The confession also addressed Mr. Hajjarian’s application of certain political theories to his own work, saying, “For these unworthy interpretations which became the cause of many immoral acts, I ask forgiveness of the Iranian people.”

For an account of academic life from a humanities perspective in Tehran from the revolution through the 90s, Azar Nafisi gives an account in Reading Lolita in Tehran. It seems like the Iranian regime attributes more power to academics in the humanities and social sciences than we usually perceive ourselves as having. Does "post-structuralism, post-Marxism and feminism" have such revoluationary potential? Or have they become rhetorically turned into dustbin categories of "othering" as communism was in the U.S. in the 1950s (or most prevalently then), attaching a label to something that may operate on different assumptions than the dominant governmental regime in order to contain and control. In terms of Humanities, do the modes of reading assumed by these "posts" have such transformative power, unleashing the unbounded human imagination? I think the Ayatollah and President Ahmadinejad overestimate academics' influence, seeking out a scapegoat, but we professors in the humanities and social sciences can only dream of such influence...

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