"The (De)Secularizing Impact of Politics on Iran's Theocracy"
It has been three decades since religion has gone "public." The Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Nicaraguan Revolution, and the establishment of the Moral Majority in the United States, all of which occurred in 1979, signified the "return of religion from exile." The return of religion called into question the foundation of international relations theories, in particular realism, for ignoring non-material factors. Indeed, social scientists often refer to the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath, including the Hostage Crisis, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Rushdie Affair, as the ultimate example of the increasing role of religion in world politics. However, these scholars frequently fail to take into account the impact that these very incidents have had on Islamism itself.This dissertation combines comparative politics and international relations theories to examine the evolution of the concept of Velayat-e Faqih (the Rule of the Jurisprudent) in post-revolutionary Iran. Against the background of domestic and international politics, it process-traces the way in which democratic and authoritarian interpretations of Islam have emerged in the country. Using a realist framework, it argues that a weak state may reduce the ideological fervor of its foreign policy and then adjust and institutionalize its official religious narrative to bless its pragmatism. However, if it perceives itself as strong, the state will return to its core ideology, weaken its pragmatic institutions, and develop religious narratives corresponding to its rising position. The discursive consequences of critical junctures (i.e. war and other major foreign policy related events) become part of the domestic mechanism, which has its own similar logic. This dissertation demonstrates how religion, as a set of competing meanings and contested doctrines that alternatively emerge in various institutions, offers theological latitudes for political actions. The state as well as Islamic parties and factions benefit tremendously from this repertoire in their quest to challenge or strengthen the status quo.
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