Sunday, August 23, 2009

Habermas and Iranian intellectuals

As part of a larger project on "Iranian Intellectuals and Occidental Men of Ideas", Ali Paya and Mohammed Amin Ghaneirad from the National Research Institute for Science Policy, Iran, have made an analysis of the impact of Jürgen Habermas's views in Iran between 1987-2005. Some of the results have been published in an article in Iranian Studies (June, 2007, pp. 305-334):

Habermas and Iranian Intellectuals

In their article, Paya and Ghaneirad discuss Habermas's impact on various groups of intellectuals in Iran, including religious intellectuals such as Abdolkarim Soroush, Hadi Khaniki and Hamid Reza Jalaeepur.

Excerpts from their conclusion:

"In recent years, growing attention to Habermas’ views is being observed in intellectual spheres inside and outside academia in Iran. The number of articles on Habermas’ ideas in popular printed media as well as the academic journals has been on the increase. Such an increase is particularly more visible during the period of flourishing the Reform Movement in Iran which mostly coincided with the two terms of the Presidency of Mr. Khatami (1997–2005)."

"Some of the religious reformists have found Habermas’ ideas on dialogue close to the idea of ‘dialogue among civilizations’ proposed by President Khatami. The idea of dialogue has also offered them an effective means to critically assess the Islamic system and its achievements, to criticize the West and capitalism, and to seek better ways for improving the socio-political situation in the Iranian society."

"Some of the Iranian intellectuals, mostly with left-wing tendencies, have used Habermas to criticize Modernity. However, in the process, they have moved away from Habermas’ ideas and have been attracted to postmodern writers such as Foucault, Lyotard, and Derrida. (.....) While making use of Habermas’ views, these intellectuals turned a blind eye towards his new liberal tendencies and kept portraying him as a radical leftwing critic of the West and America and pursued their own political agenda, based on such a misrepresentation."

"Governmental institutions have played a major role in promoting the ideas of the German thinker among the Iranian public. This in itself is a significant evidence for the fact that in developing countries like Iran, the state, in a perhaps ironic way, plays a substantial role in consolidating the mechanisms of a flourishing civil society. (.....) It should also be emphasized that only a state with a modern outlook and agenda, or at least a state that strives towards such standards, would be able to empower civil society, and this has been the case during the two terms when Mr. Khatami held presidential office in Iran."

Ali Paya is currently Visting Professor at the Center for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. On his web site you can find online articles on Islamic democracy and Islamic civil society.

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