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Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh: A Political Biography

On the 24th of June Hossein Pourbagheri successfully defended a doctoral thesis and graduated.

H. Pourbagheri
24 June 2021
Leiden Repository

With the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, Iran experienced a monumental shift from rule by absolute monarchy to governance based on a constitution. The effects of this revolution were felt not only on a national level but also globally; internationally, even influencing political relationships between some of the European great powers. Revolutions are born out of theories and ideas; the study of key figures who propagated those ideas is an essential part of historiographical research.The theoretical foundation of the Constitutional Revolution of 1906 gradually developed out of an emerging discourse which reflected the changes Iran was undergoing due to increased contact with the outside world on a scale which had never been experienced before. Having begun with colonialist developments in the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century witnessed a gradual deepening of the threat to the Islamic states by European powers. As contact with the world outside the Islamic states’ territory began to be considered increasingly necessary, Islamic countries were forced to seek a solution to prevent the dominating power of Europe. New technologies gave nations the upper hand and those who lagged behind in terms of scientific and technological development were at a distinct disadvantage. These less developed countries had first to try to understand the developments before they could tackle how to stop the spread of this new threat; the threat from this new kind of power was not based on religious ideology but rather its strength originated from science. It took some time for countries such as Iran to be able to make distinctions between power derived from scientific developments and the power of religion, to accept that development was open to all peoples regardless of their religion, nationality or race. Development towards modernity was equated with European/Western science which was considered at odds with Islamic or non-European identity. This led to discord and the clergy who had been in charge of shaping their followers’ beliefs naturally had to declare their position in response to these changes. Some clergy took reactionary positions; others were more convinced that new changes were necessary for the survival of Islam in the Islamic countries whose population was predominantly Muslim. But it was not only the clergy but also politicians, writers and intellectuals among others who began to express their thoughts and ideas about what should be done in relationship to these changes. Seyyed Hassan Taqizadeh was one such man.Taqizadeh was one of the key Iranian intellectuals who played a significant role in developing and shaping the discourse of change in Iran. As such, the aim of this research has been to provide a deep and nuanced assessment of the life and career of Taqizadeh and how that helped to influence and direct the movement towards change. Taqizadeh was not the only intellectual who was engaged in the discourse of modernity or as it has been referred to in the Iranian context, “Tajaddod”. What gives Taqizadeh particular prominence, however, is the fact that, unlike others, he remained constantly on the scene, and despite many obstacles, rarely veered from his goal of steering Iran along the path towards modernity. This research uses Taqizadeh’s biography as a mirror to reflect the discourse of change in Iran and analyses his role and relationship to that discourse of change. Taqizadeh lived a long life; 91 years. His lifetime (1878-1970) connects to a long and significant period in contemporary Iranian intellectual history; he witnessed the reign of six Shahs; four of whom he had close dealings with. During Taqizadeh’s life important changes took place in Iran and throughout the wider world, including two world wars.Taqizadeh was a politician and intellectual who has left behind many works relating to history, culture and literature. Enough of his writings and records of his thoughts remain to allow his ideas and deeds to have become a living legacy for Iranian intelligentsia. In a country still largely divided over how best it should be run, Taqizadeh’s ideas have become part of the discourse of a desire to modernise the country. Taqizadeh has not always been objectively written about and there is much polemic based around his place in Iranian historiography. Some support Taqizadeh’s ideas and thoughts; for others who scorn western democracy, his ideas have been used, in contrast, to exemplify an approach which ultimately failed. For those who favour political Islam, Taqizadeh is still considered an evil representative of the corrupt West and for the more radical even an agent of the West, whose aim was to ensure the surrender of Iran to the hostile non-Islamic West.Maybe because of the controversy around him and his deeds, although there exist numerous articles and monographs based on Taqizadeh’s life, there is a paucity of published research that focuses on and highlights the importance of his life and work in the formation of a national Iranian identity and his crucial role in the narration of modernity in the Iranian context. This research endeavours to focus on details of and influences on Taqizadeh’s life that may have been previously overlooked and provide an objective and nuanced record of the legacy he has left on Iran and the journey towards modernity in that nation.This study of Taqizadeh’s life and thoughts may also go some way towards facilitating a better understanding of contemporary Iran. After experiencing two revolutions in one century, the Iran of today is overshadowed by an overriding feeling of disquiet and uncertainty about the future. Scholars and indeed some of the general public are searching for reasons that might account for and explain the current situation that the country finds itself in, particularly following the 1979 Revolution. Much discourse revolves around how the country should or should not be ruled and the best routes for its continued development; studying Taqizadeh’s life and career may help to provide some answers.

Supervisor: Emeritus prof. dr. Turaj Atabaki 

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