The project of modernity in Iran, 1850 to 1900: A reinterpretation
This study is concerned with developing an understanding and a reinterpretation of the project of modernity in Iran in the second half of the nineteenth century. The study addresses the mode of transmission and utilization of the European conceptual framework relating to the project of modernity by Iranian intellectuals. Hence, the theoretical portion of this study involves a comparative study of the advent of the projects of modernity in Europe and Iran. Two main branches of modernism in Iran are distinguished, Islamic and secular; represented, by Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi and Mirza Malkum Khan respectively. The thesis is based on an interpretative analysis of the proposals and ideas for reform and social change, which were expressed in correspondences and essays by these two modernists, specifically, and a few other intellectuals of the period under study. The focus is on the content of their modern projects and the ways in which they mediated their ideas in their political practice. The thesis proposed here is that although the projects of modernity, in the constitutional movement, was in part successful in establishing the basis for a modern Iran, it lacked two of the fundamental elements of modernism in the West: (1) carrying out a successful dialogue with one's own past (immanent criticism) in order to develop a modern secular rationality; and (2) establishing a modern rational state based on a complete separation of religion and state. It is argued that the attempt to uncritically adapt the modern Western concepts and ideals to the traditional system has been one of the fundamental barriers to the establishment of a secular political thought in Iran. This adaptation has taken place by utilizing an Islamic rhetoric to express the demands of modern social and cultural conditions. Therefore, this thesis concludes that, contrary to the commonly held view, the secularization of social thought in Iran did not effectively take place in the constitutional movement, and that the unfinished project of modernity remains the fundamental problematic of the Iranian society.