DO NOT PUBLISH - Religious Minorities before the Law: Seeking Justice in a Fragmented Legal System

Minorities in Iran: Legal, Sociological and Historiographical Approaches

A lecture by Farzin Vejdani (Harvard University)

Using three urban non-Muslim communities as case studies, this presentation examines the socio-economic and spatial dimensions of urban crime involving Armenian Christians of New Julfa (near Isfahan), the Jewish community of Shiraz, and the Baha’is of Qum. In nineteenth-century criminal cases, such as murder, apostasy, sexual crimes, and alcohol production, religious minorities in Iran encountered a fragmented legal system: legal authority was often dispersed among local governors, the Shi‘i ‘ulama, and the Shah and his court. In exploring the legal strategies used by these religious communities, I argue that the plural and fragmented nature of juridical authority at times left religious minorities vulnerable to scapegoating and extortionate legal practices while in other instances it opened up alternative avenues for seeking redress that involved mobilizing networks of protection and intercession.

Farzin Vejdani is currently a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World. He is also an Associate Professor of History at Ryerson University where he teaches courses on the history of Muslim societies, the modern Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, and Middle Eastern and North African cities. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University’s Department of History in 2009 before becoming an Assistant Professor of Iranian history at the University of Arizona (2009-2014). His book, Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture (Stanford University Press, 2014), investigates how cultural institutions and a growing public-sphere affected history-writing, and how in turn this writing defined Iranian nationalism. In 2016, it received an Honorable Mention for the Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award. In his other publications, Vejdani has explored the themes of everyday urban crime, folklore, transnational Persian print networks, and connected histories of the Ottoman Empire, India, and Iran. In addition to being the author of three book chapters, he has published articles in the Journal of Social History, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the Journal of Religious History, the Journal of Persianate Studies, the International Journal of Turkish Studies, the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, and Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. He is also the co-editor of Iran Facing Others: Identity Boundaries in a Historical Perspective (2012). Vejdani’s current research explores the intersection of space, crime, and the law in the everyday lives of ordinary people in nineteenth-century Iran.

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Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2020