Iranian dissident and scholar to discuss Islam's role in politics

12 August 2013

Professor Mohsen Kadivar's free lecture will give context to conflicts underpinned by religious tension in Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan.
Professor Mohsen Kadivar's free lecture will give context to conflicts underpinned by religious tension in Syria, Egypt and Afghanistan.

One of Iran's more prominent dissidents - a senior cleric and philosopher exiled in the United States for his political opinions - will this week share his views at the University of Sydney on the role of Islam in politics.

As Islam's place in government persists as one of the 21st century's most pressing geopolitical issues, Professor Mohsen Kadivar will outline the complexities involved when Muslims intertwine their faith with politics at a Sydney Ideas talk. His free lecture will give context to conflicts underpinned by religious tension in Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and the recent election of a reformist president in his homeland.

One of many Iranians who supported the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 in the name of democratic reform, Professor Kadivar began expressing scepticism towards Iran's rulers in 1987 when he felt the direction of the renamed Islamic Republic of Iran and its ruling clergy - led by Ayatollah Khomenei - was deviating from the revolution's aims. He was one of many disqualified from contesting elections because his views countered those of the unelected Guardian Council, the most powerful force in Iranian politics. In 1999 he was imprisoned for 18 months after delivering a speech expressing concerns about the increasingly autocratic practices within Iran.

Professor Kadivar was officially removed from his teaching positions for, among other things, "publication of offensive articles against the holy regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran". He has lived in the United States since 2008 where he is currently a visiting professor at Duke University and would almost certainly face imprisonment if he returned home.

A leading authority on Islamic thought, Professor Kadivar spent 17 years studying Islamic faith and jurisprudence in the holy city of Qom. He is a proponent of moderate secularism and advocates for religious activity to be carried out within civil society, not via the state. He also believes religious political parties should be part of the democratic process and that all religions should be constitutionally guaranteed.

"Western ideals are far from reality in many undeveloped countries in the Middle East," he says. "The constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan, under US invention, are good examples of reality in the Middle East."

His impressive jurisprudential/theological credentials place Professor Kadivar as a leading thinker on the positioning of Islam in political systems. He has the highest degree in Islamic religious tradition from his seminary and a PhD in Islamic Philosophy and Theology from Tarbiate Morarres University. Many of Professor Kadivar's views are a religious criticism to theocracy.

"I chose to study Islamic theology when I was 20 years old to answer my questions, and to understand the role of Islam in humanities, social sciences and especially politics in early post-revolutionary Iran," he says.

From the United States, Professor Kadivar continues to agitate for the establishment of justice, democracy, human rights, and objective secularism in Iran. In an open letter to Egypt's leaders in December last year he co-wrote:

The bitter experience of our nation is now in front of you as an open book. Do not take the path, already taken. In your draft of the new constitution, you have placed the grand sheikh of Al-Adhar and his clerical staff in a position similar to that which the Iranian constitution placed the jurisprudents (Fugha'ha) of the "Guardian Council" who are selected by the supreme leader. This provision that has established a material link between the institution of religion and the institution of the state has yielded disastrous results for Iran.

Professor Kadivar's talk The Merits of Secularity and Contradictions of Theocracy promises to offer a fascinating perspective on age-old arguments relating to the separation of 'church' and state, from one of Islam's most theologically informed scholars.

He will also be attending the Competing Visions in the Muslim World conference being hosted by the University.

Event details

What: The Merits of Secularity and Contradictions of Theocracy: Religion Through Civil Society, a Sydney Ideas talk

When: 6 to 7.30pm, Wednesday 14 August

Where: Footbridge Theatre, Camperdown Campus 

Cost: Free

Book now online 

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