The Merits of Secularity and Contradictions of Theocracy: Religion through civil society

Mohsen Kadivar, Visiting Research Professor of Islamic Studies at the Department of Religion, Duke University

Co-presented with the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the Department of Government and International Relations, and the Religion, State and Society Network, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Professor Mohsen Kadivar is a guest of the Competing Visions in the Muslim World Symposium at the University of Sydney.

Recent developments in Egypt and elsewhere have prompted a fundamental question concerning the role of Islamists groups in politics: to what extent can and should Muslims promote their faith through politics, in particular by ensuring that the state functions as a medium of their religious principles?

A conventional reply has it that Muslims who desire to live according to spiritual norms, religious ethics and Islamic law (Sharia) must form an Islamic state. Mohsen Kadivar argues that the understandable temptation to use political power as a means of reaching religious ends can in fact lead to the formation of a theocracy. By this he means a type of state in which Islamic law becomes state law and special legislative and judicial rights are granted to clerics and religious leaders. In this public lecture, Kadivar asks about the efficacy of theocracy. From Muslims’ perspective, he will argue that in a secular age an Islamic state is the most detrimental way of promoting religious ethics, championing divine values and implementing Islamic law. Evidence is growing that theocracy, or an Islamic state, inevitably damages religiosity and decreases its public appeal, which raises another fundamental question: in Muslim societies, are Islamic ethics and law paradoxically best served and promoted by a civil society that enables the competitive interaction between different religious faiths and people who are secularists?

Mohsen Kadivar

Theologian and philosopher Mohsen Kadivar is one of Iran’s most prominent and respected advocates of the reconstruction and reform of Islamic theology, jurisprudence and politics. Imprisoned for 18 months for his political and religious views by the Iranian government, Kadivar was forced into exile. Since 2009, has taught Islamic studies at Duke University in the United States. Kadivar has published a number of influential books in Persian and Arabic, as well as a dozen essays in English. His scholarly interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought, with a special focus on Islamic philosophy, theology, law, ethics, Qur'anic studies and Shiite political thought.

Click here for more information about Kadivar’s recent works.

Academic contact: , Department of Government and International Relations