Seminar on Iranian Studies

Dear Iranian Studies Seminar Members and Guests,
The eighth meeting of the 27th consecutive year of Columbia University Seminar on
Iranian Studies for the academic year 2014-2015 will take place on:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015
at 5:30 pm in the
Faculty House of Columbia University

Our speaker will be
Dr. Fakhreddin Azimi, Prof. of History at the University of Connecticut
Who will lead the discussion on:
The Conjuncture of Religion and Politics
in the Emergence of Khomeini

We will gather in the lounge of Faculty House from 5:00-5:30.
Seminar will start at 5:30.
Please notify our rapporteur, Suzanne A. Toma at: <sat2005@columbia.edu> if you will attend the lecture. (Please also specify if you will stay for dinner, $25.00 payable by check.)

We are looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you at the seminar.
Co-Chairs: Vahid Nowshirvani and Ahmad Ashraf

To reach the Faculty House:
Enter the Wien Hall Gate on 116th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Walk past Wien Hall, then turn right to the Faculty House.


Ayatollah Khomeini appeared on the Iranian political scene in the autumn of 1962 when he and a number of other clerics actively objected, on religious grounds, to a government electoral decree. He later gained greater prominence as an opponent of the Shah’s program of socio-economic reform. In openly challenging the state, Khomeini departed from the established quietest tradition of the Shi’ite clergy. Embracing a defiant, confrontationist and populist posture, he was able to outmaneuver his rivals and pressure them into supporting him. By sacrilizing political struggle against the regime’s strategy of marginalizing the clergy, and by capitalizing on the Shah’s violations of the constitution, Khomeini was able to acquire both political capital and popular support. His religious-traditionalist supporters found his stand against the Shah uplifting; they also saw him as seeking to reverse the image of Islam as tolerant of socio-political ills. Khomeini sought to rehabilitate and empower the clerics and counter efforts he considered detrimental to the salience of religion in Iranian society. Many secular opponents of the Shah, however, paid greater attention to what they considered to be the symbolic significance and anti-authoritarian implications of Khomeini’s opposition to the regime.

The Shah sought to isolate Khomeini by vilifying him as a “black reactionary”. The conflict between the regime and the clerics culminated in the extensive rioting of June 5th 1963. The regime was shaken by the violent unrest but failed to grasp or ponder the ramifications or the extent of the sentiments and resentments that it signified. The Shah primarily feared military coups, the revival of the civic nationalist opposition, and left-wing challenges. In October 1964 Khomeini had an opportunity to counter the charges of obscurantist opposition to reform and narrow-minded concentration on religion, by vocally opposing growing US influence in the country.  He sought to represent himself as a defender of Iranian national sovereignty and dignity. Specific socio-political circumstances enabled Khomeini to capitalize on and exploit the constitutional vulnerabilities of the regime, as well as the appeal of politicized Islam, to provoke and utilize lower class resentments. Such resentments were rooted in socio-economic inequity and the growing coercive power of the state, which increasingly sought to stifle civil society and neutralize or subjugate its opponents.  This talk will explore the confluence of factors and circumstances accounting for the emergence of Khomeini.


Dr. Fakhreddin Azimi is Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. A graduate of the universities of Tehran, London and Oxford, his primary fields of research are the history, politics and culture of modern Iran. He is also interested in the epistemological underpinnings of historical enquiry and the contribution of the social sciences to historiography. His publications in English include: The Quest for Democracy in Iran: a Century of Struggle against Authoritarian Rule (Harvard University Press, 2008, paperback 2010) – winner of the Mossadegh Prize (Mossadegh Foundation, Geneva) and the Saidi-Sirjani Award (International Society for Iranian Studies) – and Iran: The Crisis of Democracy, from the exile of Reza Shah to the fall of Musaddiq (New York & London, 1989; revised  paperback edition 2009). Azimi has also written extensively in Persian, including two books and more than forty articles published in leading journals in Tehran, particularly Negah-e Nou.