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Below is the third of five exclusive excerpts from Psycho-nationalism – Global Thought, Iranian Imaginations, by Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam. New excerpts will be posted Mondays for the next two weeks.

To learn more about the book, see the introductory post here. Read the others excerpts here.


Imagination Nation and Cultural Resistance

The psycho-nationalism of successive states ruling the Iranian terrain is cognitively intrusive and physically demanding. There is a physiognomy of Iran that has taken its psychosomatic toll on the way Iran is imagined both within the country and elsewhere. As an invented mental space, psycho-nationalism in Iran represents a locus for identity, which is not merely cultural, civilisational or national. It is exactly personal because the ‘modern’ Iranian state has assaulted the cognition of its people on a deep psychological level. ‘Cultural schizophrenia’, in the words of the contemporary Iranian philosopher Daryush Shayegan, is a symptom of centuries-old psycho-nationalist dynamics which have affected the way Iranians perceive themselves and others.[1]

These coercive psycho-nationalist strategies by the state have been resisted in Iranian poetry, philosophy and popular culture. When the world-renowned diva of Iranian popular music Googoosh, who left Iran in 2000 after 20 years of artistic silence, called her comeback album ‘Zoroaster’, she was appropriating this ancient Iranian religion in protest against the Islamicised national narrative of the Islamic Republic. At least for Googoosh, the imagery of Zoroastrianism became a vehicle of protest much in the same way political interpretations of Islam became a carrier of resistance to the dictatorship of the Shah in the 1970s. This is not because she is a Zoroastrian ‘fundamentalist’. Neither were the revolutionaries in 1979 particularly and coherently ‘Islamic’. Such imageries and symbols of the past are used to call for an idea of Iran that safeguards diversity and multiculturalism. Before the revolution and after, there have been several revolts in the name of an inclusive and culturally tolerant idea of Iran and this power-resistance dialectic between the state and society has left an indelible imprint on the way Iran is perceived. In this way, Iran has become one of the most contested topics of contemporary global history. This is one of the reasons why Iranians that I have interviewed for this study – even second and third generation citizens in Europe and North America – find the country ‘inescapable’, ‘mesmerising’, and central to their personal identity.[2]

The primary material that I have gathered for this book through years of fieldwork in Iran and outside of the country, shows the inherently global imagination that many Iranians hold. Many Iranians imagine the country in cosmopolitan and multicultural terms: Iran as the quintessential melting pot of world history, if you like.[3] Many others think the country monolithic, either primarily ‘Persian’, ‘Islamic’ or ‘Shia’, or even French as the Shah once wrote in Life Magazine.[4] This is why I approach the topic as an exercise in global thought and comparative philosophies. Iran as a subject matter stands at the crossroads of disciplines and theories. A pluralistic approach to the country ensures a pluralistic appreciation of its meanings. I have invented the ‘fields of study’ of ‘Global Thought’ and ‘Comparative Philosophies’ as a part of my academic title at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Much like an engineer of a mini state with one inhabitant (myself), I am now giving meaning to an invented outfit. Titles and corresponding ‘identities’ start with imagined ideas, even if they are entirely new as is my title. Nation-states follow a similar pattern. They are imagined and continuously filled with meaning. Therefore, I am presenting this study as a ‘psycho-ethnography’ of the way nation-states are imagined. Hence, this is not a project limited to Iran. It is research that contributes to a global understanding of nation-states and the psycho-nationalist politics that they pursue.

[1] See Dariush Shayegan, Cultural Schizophrenia: Islamic Societies Confronting the West, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997.

[2] Interviews with participants living in: Hamburg, 13 April 2016, Washington, DC, 26 June 2016, London, 16 August 2016. All respondents preferred to be anonymous.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, ‘A Future to Outshine Ancient Glories’, Life, 31 May 1963.

Global Thought, Iranian Imaginations
by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and other booksellers.

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