Democratization of Islamic Political Theology

Stream: Panel 25 - Comparative Politics: Faithful Contestations: Democratic Learning Curve of Islamists
Date: Tuesday, 27 September 2016
Time: 11.30 am – 1.00 pm


In the second half of the 20th century, Iran’s Shiite school witnessed the evolution of a novel political theology that culminated in the establishment of a non-democratic politico-religious system. This politicised theological articulation not only breached the apolitical foundations of the Shiite faculty, but obscured a hitherto enduring mainstream tradition that recorded only rare and temporary interference in politics. Shiite apolitical theology has consistently offered a framework conducive to accommodating democratic politics since the beginning of the 20th century. Its encounter with the notion of representative democracy resulted in many Shiite scholars becoming decisive contributors, both conceptually and practically, to the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911). Revisiting this eclipsed tradition of apolitical theology, this paper argues that many in the Shiite world have remained loyal to the apolitical tradition by adopting a quietist approach. More importantly, the seeds germinating a democratic vision have been planted in Shiite apolitical theology. Evidence will be drawn from the lived history, both contemporary and classical, of the mainstream Shiite school as well as from the conceptual articulations of leading Shiite scholars. The paper will focus on the Najaf seminary’s reserved demeanour during Iran’s Constitutional Revolution, and on the political thought Akhund Khurasani (1839–1911).


Naser Ghobadzadeh (Presenter), Australian Catholic University
Researching at the intersection of religion and politics, Naser’s interests lie in the study of Islamic political theology, secularism, state-religion-society relations, and Middle East and Iranian politics.By mapping competing discourses and practices in the Muslim world, his current research project involves conceptualising the possibility not only of the co-existence of religious and secularity but also the need to recognise the religious roots of an emerging model of secularity in the Muslim world.Conceptualising the notion of electoral Theocracy, Naser is also working on authoritarian resilience in Iran.This project intends to explore the contribution of repeated elections to the durability of authoritarianism.