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From ‘Islamism’ to ‘Spiritualism’? The Individualization of ‘Religion’ in Contemporary Iran

Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK
Religions 2020, 11(1), 32; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11010032
Received: 4 November 2019 / Revised: 21 December 2019 / Accepted: 31 December 2019 / Published: 7 January 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion, Power, and Resistance: New Ideas for a Divided World)
In the first four centuries of Islam in Iran, mosques were arguably the only sacred places for Iranian Muslims to pray. It was only after the invasion of the Mongolians and the resulting expansion of Shi’ism and Sufism throughout the country that the tombs of some sacred figures, including Imams’ grandchildren (‘Imamzadehs’) or (‘Maqbarahs’), became shrines and important sites for pilgrims. It is interesting that pilgrimage to both Imams’ shrines and Imamzadehs and their associated expressions and perceptions lie at the center of the Shi’ite experience of ‘religion’, although they are rarely mentioned in the relevant core sources of Shi’ism. Nevertheless, to borrow a Weberian image, during the Islamic revolution of 1979, mosques became the ‘vehicles’ for the religio-political ideology of the revolution. Unlike Imamzadehs, they embraced dissidents from a variety of social classes, ranging from emigrants from rural areas to educated liberals and intellectuals. In the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, the findings of my three-year research project illustrates that whilst the religious status of mosques is decreasing, Imamzadehs as well as other venues detached from Islamic authority and political Islam are increasingly becoming ‘vehicles’ for ideas and sentiments for the expression of more individualistic and ‘spiritual’ sensations, rather than the manifestation of an established and institutionalized religio-political ideology. Taking inspiration from a social constructionist approach, discourse and content analysis of media, participant observation in ‘Shi’ite’ venues situated in three provinces, particularly three Imamzadehs or Maqbarahs, and thirty semi-structured interviews in north-west Iran, this article aims to report the findings of this project by focusing on the meanings of ‘religion’ (and ‘non-religion’) and ‘spiritual’ (and ‘non-spiritual’) attached to these venues, including Imamzadehs, and their material culture as well as the changes our informants have experienced in this regard through time and space, particularly during the last forty years. View Full-Text
Keywords: social constructionism; religion; Islamism; Islam; Shi’ism; spiritualism; rituals; Iran social constructionism; religion; Islamism; Islam; Shi’ism; spiritualism; rituals; Iran
MDPI and ACS Style

Godazgar, H. From ‘Islamism’ to ‘Spiritualism’? The Individualization of ‘Religion’ in Contemporary Iran. Religions 2020, 11, 32.

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