Forty Years On. The Vocabulary of Secularism in Iran

March 15, 2019
12:00 pm-1:30 pm | London

Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations

Image Caption: Workers on strike because of unpaid wages in Shush, Khuzestan province, southwestern Iran, in November 2018. They are holding a banner which reads: "Dr Ghazi, honourable governor of the province of Shush: Please instruct the bakeries to loan bread to the workers of Haft-tapeh [factory]. The workers of Haft-tapeh are hungry."


Experts on Iran and the interested public are invited to attend our roundtable discussion on the ‘Vocabulary of Secularism’ 40 years after the Iranian revolution. We shall look at the discursive formulations of reform, along the spectrum from Islamist to secularist, and more broadly from religious to secular. In particular, participants will discuss the different usages of specific terminology which signals wider authoritative ideas in secular or religious frames of reference, or in the creative and ambivalent space between the two. Our focus is on the subtle changes in meaning that occur when a political or legal term is transposed from one context to another, for instance, when a term that is borrowed from religious discourse signifies secular practices of governance. We shall explore questions such as:  

  •  What is doulat and what is din in the context of the struggles over the reform of the Iranian state? Why would the Iranian equivalent to the Western slogan on the "separation of church and state" be "[no] separation of religion from politics"?
  • How do secularist ideas translate into current Iranian political discourse?
  • What terms are modified to translate laws between the holy and the human realms?

*Limited number of tickets are available. Book your place soon.


Yasuyuki Matsunaga, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

Professor Matsunaga (University of Tokyo; University of South Carolina; New York University) is the author of "Islamic Dissent in Iran’s Full-fledged Islamic Revolutionary State" in Between Dissent and Power: The Transformation of Islamic Politics in the Middle East and Asia, ed. by Khoo Boo Teik, Vedi R. Hadiz, and Yoshihiro Nakanishi (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2014). Among his recent articles are: "(Theological and Institutional Soul-searching Aside) Will Re-problematizing Iran’s Islamic State à la ‘Religious Secularity’ Require Another Islamic State?" in the Journal of Religious and Political Practice (2017); and "The Secularization of a Faqih-headed Revolutionary Islamic State of Iran: Its Mechanisms, Processes, and Prospects" in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East (2009). His comparative research has led him to think of Islamic politics on a spectrum between the religious and the secular, among other dimensions of political positions, along which political terminology finds adaptable meanings.

Hadi Enayat, Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC)

Dr Enayat (Birkbeck College, University of London) is the author of Islam and Secularism in Post-Colonial Thought: A Cartography of Recent Genealogies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Prior to his academic path as a political sociologist, he worked as a journalist for the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Weekly from 1992 to 1994. He has also worked in the area of refugee rights with the London based NGO Praxis from 2005 to 2007. His book Law, State and Society in Modern Iran  (Palgrave Macmillan 2013) won the 2013 Biennial Mossadegh Prize. His interests in the areas of religion and international relations, the sociology of law and secularism studies, have led him to integrate the secular logic of the state and its discourses with the sociocultural and ethical discourses of Islam, while rejecting approaches that view the Muslim experience of politics as exceptional and incomparable.

Ali Paya, The Islamic College, affiliated with Middlesex University (London) & National Research Institute for Science Policy (Tehran, Iran)

Professor Paya (Sharif University of Technology, University of Tehran; University College London) is the author of Analytic Philosophy: Problems and Prospects which received the award for the best philosophy book of 2003 in Iran. Among his recent publications are Iraq, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World (co-editor 2012), Analytic Philosophy from a Critical Rationalist Point of View (2016), Habermas and Iranian Intellectuals (co-author 2016), Greh Goshaee Be Shiveh-ye Philosophan va Mohandesan (Problem-Solving in Accordance with the Approaches of Philosophers and Engineers: Essays Concerning Science, Technology and Science Policy) (2017), and Islam, Modernity and a New Millennium: Themes from a Critical Rationalist Reading of Islam (2018). His research on philosophy, Islam and modern science has integrated vocabulary from a range of discourses between the secular concerns of this-worldly policies and the moral concerns of philosophers, and of Iranian Muslim intellectuals in particular.


Nancy Hawker, Research Fellow, Governance Programme, AKU-ISMC
Gianluca Parolin, Faculty Lead, Governance Programme, AKU-ISMC


This event is free but booking is essential:
To attend in person, please click here.
To attend online, please click here.

This event is organised by AKU-ISMC' Governance Programme.


Room 220, 2nd floor,
Aga Khan Centre, 
10 Handyside Street, 
London N1C 4DN