Epistemological Shifts and their Impacts on Iranian Feminist Thoughts
In Feminism and Methodology, Sandra Harding, a prominent feminist philosopher defines epistemology as, “a theory of knowledge” which answers questions about “who can be a ‘knower’ (can women?); what tests beliefs must pass in order to be legitimated as knowledge (only tests against men’s experiences and observations?); what kinds of things can be known (can ‘subjective truths’ count as knowledge?)” (Harding, 1999)
In answering these questions, and/or questions about the nature of objectivity, the relationship between the researcher and her/his research subjects, or what should be the purposes of the pursuit of knowledge; many feminist scholars, around the world, challenge the traditional epistemologies by offering alternative views. Harding provides an overview of important tensions between the feminist analyses of such issues and the traditional theories of knowledge from which these feminists borrow, and between the feminist epistemologies themselves. Taking Harding’s approach to Feminist knowledge production as a point of departure, my paper examines the development of feminist thought in modern Iran in the context of the epistemological changes that have influenced it.
In the modern history of Iranian feminist theories, sometimes, the conflicts between feminists’ epistemologies have been misunderstood as conflicts between “beliefs” rather than strategies. Epistemologies are “strategies for justifying beliefs.” (Harding, 1999) Some familiar examples of these justificatory strategies, according to Harding, are: “appeals to the authority of God, of custom and tradition, of ‘common sense,’ of observation, of reason, and of masculine authority.” In the history of Iranian thoughts, as in many other parts of the world, the tensions between some of these strategies are undeniable, for instance, “appeals to the authority of God” (or Islam) versus “of reason”; or “appeals to the authority of custom and tradition” versus that of modern ideas and practices. One can identify at least two points of distinguishable epistemological references: one, the appeal to Science as a strategy for justification of “objective” truth, the other appeals to the authority of God in the realm of religious knowing. Since epistemology is “the study of knowledge and justified belief,” 1 it is imperative to examine the shifts in epistemological models, which authenticate Iranian feminist knowledge. The tensions between divergent schools of feminisms in contemporary Iran can be better understood when we acknowledge this epistemological disconnect.