Minorities in Iran: Legal, Sociological and Historiographical Approaches

Minorities in Iran: Legal, Sociological and Historiographical Approaches

Mosques in Iran (Photo: BockoPix, 2017; cropped).

Panel by Neda Bolourchi (Rutgers University), and Farzin Vejdani (Harvard University)

Tuesday, February 11, 2020
4:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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Existential Threats, Security Risks, and the Law: Iranian Minority Communities during the Iran-Iraq War and After
Why did Christians, Zoroastrians, and Jews publicly announce and voluntarily stand with the newly formed Islamic Republic when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in September 1980? What laws impacted them and how were they treated? Why is this minority history of Iran ignored or only analyzed in discussions of the politicking that occurred after the war? In answering these questions, this presentation by Neda Bolourchi explores the transformative discourse about Iran as sacred during the twentieth century. In this discursive process, nationalist sentiment grew as did minority participation. Faced with the existential threat of an Iraqi invasion, ethno-religious communities joined forces with the government. Yet, in the years since the war, the (re)presentation of why these communities participated on behalf of Iran has changed. This talk concludes by demonstrating how these communities have been modeled into various versions of "model minorities," respectively.

Religious Minorities before the Law: Seeking Justice in a Fragmented Legal System
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.

About the panelists

Neda Bolourchi a Post-Doctoral Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. She is an interdisciplinary scholar deeply engaged in legal, ethnographic, and archival theory and methodology and whose work investigates how people believe in and articulate understanding the sacred and sacrifice through cultural, historical, and legal production and consumption. She currently is completing the book manuscript of her dissertation, Contending Visions of Iran: The Battle for the Sacred Nation-State, as well as an oral history project. Both examine the transformative discourse on and about Iran as sacred across the political and religious spectra during the twentieth century. Neda's work has been supported with multiple fellowships by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others. She is published in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes on religion, politics, legal systems, the modern Middle East, and the Iran-Iraq War. Also, her work has appeared in a variety of Jane's publications, Congressional Quarterly's Political Handbook of the World, Praeger Security International, and the Atlantic Council's Iran Source, among others. She has provided analysis and commentary to Washington, D.C. think-tanks as well as the BBC, al-Jazeera, and others.

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.

Sponsor(s): Center for Near Eastern Studies