Northwestern Events Calendar


Alternative Universalism: Cosmopolitan Modernism, Political Islam, and the Iranian Revolution

When: Tuesday, January 21, 2020
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM Central

Where: 1800 Sherman Avenue, 3rd floor meeting space, Evanston, IL 60201 map it

Audience: Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Category: Lectures & Meetings


EDGS Graduate Student Lecture Series

Hamed Yousefi, Art History

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 is widely recognized as a turning point in the history of political Islam. Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership of the revolution combined anti-western rhetoric with a conviction that Islam offers a solution to the crisis of colonial modernity. Existing literature on the revolution focuses on political, social and economic causes that led to the collapse of the pre-revolutionary government and the rise of Islamism in the country. To the extent that intellectual histories have been concerned, the literature prioritizes the work of Iranian authors, philosophers and political activists, with little attention to the role played by modernist artists in the transition to the Islamic government. Modern art has been primarily understood as secular. In order to offer an alternative account of the Iranian revolution from the standpoint of artistic discourse, this essay focuses on the work of a revolutionary filmmaker, Morteza Avini (1941-1993). Avini’s practice demonstrates two characteristics of political Islam, otherwise obscured in the intellectual discourse. On the one hand, he shows us the extent to which Khomeini’s ideology of political Islam co-opted secular discourses of modernist creativity and offered Islam as a response to the political crisis of modernist cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, Avini positions Islam as a universal force that is renewed and revived by modernity: not Islam as an historically intact reservoir of meaning, always already available to assuage modern alienation, but Islam as a force that is only enlivened by our embracing of Satanic modernity. Through Avini we can see that the political turn to Islam originated from a desire for an alternative universalism.

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