Northwestern Events Calendar


Alireza Doostdar: Islam, Spiritual Empiricism, and the Gender of Reason in Iran

When: Monday, February 27, 2017
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM CT

Where: Crowe Hall, 4-130 (Fourth Floor, room 130), 1860 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Gina Giliberti  

Group: Global Politics and Religion Research Group

Category: Academic


Since the early 20th century, Iranians have constructed various pathways for approaching the realm of the "spiritual" in terms that they themselves recognize as rational or even scientific. At the heart of these attempts stands an image of so-called "gullible women," a category of social persons who must be reformed or excluded if rational understanding of the spiritual is to become possible. While the circumstances of Iranian women have undergone drastic transformations over the past century – among other things, they are more educated, publicly visible, and socially active than at any other time in history – the figure of the "gullible woman" still erupts into public discourse from time to time.

Alireza Doostdar will examine this image in relation to a series of shifts in forms of spiritual inquiry and the social contexts within which they are pursued. The "gullible woman," he argues, indexes two very different sets of anxieties at the two ends of the twentieth century. By understanding these anxieties, we can gain analytic purchase on the ways in which hegemonic forms of rationality have been constituted, and the specific challenges and resistances they have engendered.

Alireza Doostdar is an anthropologist of contemporary Islam, focusing on Iran in the 20th and 21st centuries. He specializes in imbrications and entanglements between science and religion, particularly the ways in which modern scientific imaginaries shape people’s conceptions of the supernatural, and therefore their religious beliefs and practices. His current book project, which is based on his dissertation, “Fantasies of Reason: Science, Superstition, and the Supernatural in Iran,” concentrates on these and other processes critical to a more nuanced appreciation of contemporary religiosity in Iran, particularly among the middle class, and also understanding modern state-formation in Iran, both in its secularist and Islamist varieties.

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