The Institute of Ismaili Studies: Approaches to the Qur’an in Contemporary Iran

Two panels at the Ninth Biennial Iranian Studies Conference, Istanbul – 3 August 2012

Colloquium at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London – 2–4 September 2013. (Please see Call for Papers section below)

Convenor: Dr Alessandro Cancian, Research Associate, Qur’anic Studies Unit, IIS

For further details, please contact Dr Alessandro Cancian:


The Qur’an is a central reference for various levels of public discourse in Iran. As the founding scripture of Islam, it influences the expression of all aspects of the life of Muslims, be it religious, cultural or social. Its interpretation, in the form of tafsir or in other genres and fields, establishes the boundaries of religious identity of each denomination; informs its religious outlook and practice; and shapes the character of each individual’s relationship with the divine and within society.

In Iran, where the majority of the population adheres to Twelver Shi‘ism, the relationship between the Qur’an and society is charged with a set of peculiarities that have not been investigated comprehensively and in detail by specialists in Iranian or Qur’anic studies. For example, until recently, the Qur’an was given relatively less attention in the Twelver Shi‘i institutions of religious learning than in most Sunni madrasas.

On the other hand, the Qur’an has had an impact on many areas of Iranian society and culture: its script has been creatively seen as inspiration for the arts; its meaning has been employed by rival factions in political discourse; its depths have been explored by the mystics of every persuasion and its symbols have never ceased to permeate and influence, by devotion or by reaction, almost every kind of literary expression in the Persian language.

From the much debated issue of the canonical text to the revival of Qur’anic studies in post-revolutionary Iran, the Qur’an has been extensively read, revered, interpreted and translated in contemporary Iran. Furthermore, it has been used as a source of inspiration, carried as a banner, instrumentally used by politicians, turned into a manifesto for the oppressed, and even critiqued.

By bringing together specialists in early modern and contemporary Iran from various disciplines, ranging from Islamic studies to the social sciences, the main aim of the project is to draw as comprehensive as possible a picture of the various approaches to the Qur’an that have been adopted in contemporary Iran.

The panel and wider project focuses on the past 150 years, from the second half of the nineteenth century, when the intellectual drive that would breed the constitutional uprising was at its height, to the first decade of the twenty-first century, where Iran is one of the key arenas of religious, intellectual, political and social debate in the world.

The project will culminate in a peer-reviewed edited volume of articles selected from the colloquium and panels, which will be submitted to the Qur’anic Studies Series, published by Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

This is part of a wider ‘Regional Approaches’ project at the Institute’s Qur’anic Studies Unit which is committed to exploring the reception of the Qur’an in various regions in the contemporary Muslim world. Other projects have included, or will include, Indonesia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, the Maghreb, South Asia, Central Asia and the Arab Middle East.

Focus Areas

Areas covered in the project include, but are not limited to:

  • Trends in tafsir
  • Translations and editions of the Qur’an
  • Textual criticism of the Qur’an
  • Modern intellectuals and the Qur’an
  • The Qur’an in literature (poetry, narrative, etc.)
  • The Qur’an and law
  • The Qur’an in education (secular and religious)
  • The Qur’an in the political discourse
  • The Qur’an and the 1979 revolution
  • The Qur’an and the philosophical tradition
  • The Qur’an and nationalism
  • The Qur’an and the green movement
  • The Qur’an and popular culture
  • The Qur’an in the arts and material culture (music, cinema, visual arts, etc.)

Two panels on ‘Approaches to the Qur’an in Contemporary Iran

Call for papers

Source: IIS UK


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