Philosophy and Culture in Iranian History

This panel was compiled by the Conference Program Team from independently submitted paper proposals


Sajjad Rizvi


Sajjad Rizvi
University of Exeter


Room 27
Wed, 2016-08-03 08:45 - 10:15


by Seyed Hossein Hosseini-Nassab / University of Toronto

This paper studies the significant, yet understudied, interrelations between falsafa (Islamic philosophy) and Islam by analyzing the images of the Prophet Muhammad in the works of early falasifa (Islamic philosophers) and shows a fascinating reconciliatory development in the history of Islamic thought. The paper begins by closely studying the confluence of the prophetic figure with Greek philosopher figures in certain Islamic biographical accounts, where we observe a Muhammadan typological figuration of certain Greek figures. This process of adaptation is also seen in the works of Peripatetic falasifa who transformed the Greek “natural” theory of prophecy into a Muhammadan, “supernatural” theory. This philosophical apology for prophecy is most apparent in the falasifa’s veneration of prophets, where the prophetic figure is considered as the best of people, the philosopher par excellence, and “almost worthy of worship.” Philosophical veneration of the Prophet however reaches a crescendo in the works of Isma'ili thinkers, who developed an ontological and archetypal image of Muhammad. While the Illuminationist Suhrawardi (d. 1191) also ascribes the highest qualities to Muhammad, he occasionally values gnostics higher than prophets. Furthermore, Suhrawardi associates Muhammadan qualities to gnostics, including himself, and in some of his allegorical works implies that he himself had received divine knowledge directly from the angel Gabriel (who is the symbol of his own inner guide and the Active Intellect) and thus implicitly places himself in the same apocalyptic position as Muhammad. Despite the significant differences between the images of the Prophet Muhammad in the works of the Peripatetic, Isma'ili, and Illuminationist philosophers and the differences in their respective relationship with the Prophet, they all present Muhammad as a philosopher, their intellectual hero, and a true archetype of wisdom, who had access to knowledge of everything without being taught.

by Urs Gösken / University of Bern


Placed in the context of Iran‘s recent intellectual history, reception of Heidegger comes in the wake of the reception of Western thinkers in Iran that starts in the 19th century. Dealing with Western philosophy was both part and a reaction to what is conventionally called Westernization, a process that, contrary to what the term suggests, does not involve the West alone, as recent scholarship has pointed out.
Iranian philosopher and university teacher Aḥmad Fardīd (1909-1994), through acquaintance with the French self-styled Platonist and orientalist Henry Corbin (1903-1978), seems to have been the first Iranian thinker to have become aware of Heidegger‘s significance. He soon gathered a circle around him from which later recipients of Heidegger like Dāryuš Šāyegān (1935-) and Reżā Dāvarī (1933-) came forth.
Corbin attributes a religious dimension to Heidegger‘s thinking and uses Heidegger‘s phenomenological hermeneutics to deal with what he calls Iranian-Islamic tradition, a term that caught on with the Iranian intellectual community and has come to constitute their intellectual self-awareness. Generally, Corbin identifies the Iranian-Islamic tradition as the purest manifestation of an eternal wisdom. Religion in this perspective cannot be reduced to a historical and material dimension. Instead, Corbin extends the meaning of religion in a way that allows him to formulate the question of God independently from traditional theology. This initiative is welcomed by Iranian intellectuals, too. Corbins orientalism and Heidegger‘s thought allow them to start a dialogue with Western thinkers without any feelings of inferiority.
My talk discusses how far Heidegger‘s attraction for Iranian thinkers since the 50s may have, on the one hand, resided in the possibility to use his philosophy to formulate a counterposition to reductionist rationalism like positivism and materialism, the one championed by official Pahlavi discourse and the other by the ideological, and, thus, likewise reductionist counterdiscourse of the left, and, on the other, to advocate a non-reductionist notion of religion as a counterposition to, e.g., all sorts of positivist or materialist notions of religion and of the traditional concept of religion represented by the religious institution.

by Hunter Bandy / Duke University

How can the history of emotions enable innovative readings of Islamic Philosophy in the early-modern Persianate world? The approach of intellectual history has traditionally focused on questions of influence, origin, and other modalities of the transmission of knowledge at the expense of mapping the affective and emotional landscapes in which Muslim philosophers practiced their craft. Drawing on the work of William Reddy and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, I will offer commentary on how analyses from the history of emotions may be used more directly to scrutinize the scholarship of a Muslim Persian pedigree.

A student of the Isfahan School of Mir Damad and Baha al-Din ‘Amili named Nizam al-Din Ahmad Gilani (d. 1650) active in the retinue of the Mughal general Mahabbat Khan and later under ‘Abdullah Qutbshah of Hyderabad demonstrates the mobile circulation of Iranian philosophy between Mughal and Deccan Indian Muslim courts. Gilani’s emotional experience represented in a variety of his extant manuscript sources reveals the significance of affective awe and wonder informing proper philosophical habitus in a mid-17th Century Indo-Iranian context. This paper will argue that Gilani’s affective experience of the natural world allows us to begin discussing how emotional expressions not only help justify the pursuit of natural philosophy, but also offer insights into the formation of new ethical relationships between investigating Muslim subjects and their objects of study. Thaumazein, or affective wonder that induces philosophical reasoning, serves as the basis from which not only natural philosophical reasoning may take place, but it also establishes a deeply subjective mystical experience of the sonorous phenomenal world. Gilani repeatedly demonstrates the affective intrusion of the world into his psyche through claiming surprise and wonder (isti‘ajāb va istighrāb) at the workings of the atmosphere, human body, as well as plant and animal life. His surprise extends to grammatical riddles, obscure verses of the Qur’ān and the content of his own dreams.

Overlapping with mystical and occult currents between Iran and India that strongly influenced Gilani’s scholarship, his mode of natural philosophy should be understood as inextricable from the emotional regime of his Indo-Iranian milieu. My analysis will offer further commentary about why the expression of certain emotions must be considered not as symbolically powerful tropes but as constitutive components of the very process of Muslim philosophy.

by Sharare Shahrokhi / Contra Costa College

Sharare Shahrokhi

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.