Western theorists of the political and social sciences have typically held that increasing secularism is an inevitable feature of modern nation-states. Some states may be openly hostile to any expression of religion as a factor in public affairs; others tend to reduce religious life to the realm of nothing more than individual, discretionary, personal behavior […]

Contemporary Iran is divided into more than 30 provinces, but these are mostly artificial administrative divisions that are of little real consequence and subject to frequent changes. Geographical factors, however, have created a number of quite distinct regions in Iran, and their identity is often reinforced by ethnic and cultural differences as well. The most […]

Despite the common elements which hold it together, Islam is not and never has been an absolutely monolithic or homogeneous religion. Over the course of its history, it has given rise to many schools of thought and sectarian divisions as well as esoteric and mystical movements like Sufi sm. Very real and signifi cant divisions […]

As noted in the previous chapter, Islam came to Iran in the wake of the Arab conquests of the seventh century. Until the sixteenth century, the Iranian lands, or at least their major urban centers, were predominately Sunnite in orientation. A very large number of the most infl uential fi gures in the history of […]

The basic features of the religion of Islam are well known, and as they are common to Muslims in a variety of countries around the world as well as to those in Iran, they need only be summarized briefly here. The two absolutely essential doctrines of Islam, on which all others are based, are encapsulated […]

Zoroastrians make up one of the smallest religious minorities in contemporary Iran, numbering only about 32,000 (as of 1986). That is, of course, rather ironic, since Zoroastrianism can claim to be the oldest and most authentically Iranian religion of all. It is also somewhat misleading, since the cultural infl uence of Zoroastrianism in Iran has […]

Judaism and Christianity in Iran are represented by small but significant religious communities that can also be regarded, to some extent, as distinct ethnic groups. Jews have lived in Iran since ancient times, and Iran has a special place in Jewish history and the development of Judaism: Cyrus the Great, who liberated the Jews from […]

Ironically, there is no place in the system just described for what is in fact the single largest non-Muslim religion in Iran, Bahaism. Before the revolution, as many as half a million Iranians were members of this faith; today, offi – cially, the religion does not exist in Iran even though the actual membership totals […]

Although the number of non-Muslims in contemporary Iran is quite small, well under one percent of the population, the religions they represent are of considerable interest for both historical and cultural reasons. Zoroastrianism, for example, preceded Islam as the national religion of Iran and has greatly infl uenced both Iranian culture and the development of […]

Given the radically different views of Sunnism and Shi‘ism on matters of history and doctrine, it might be assumed that there would also be a vast and unbridgeable gap between them in terms of practices as well. In fact, they have a good deal in common. Shi‘ite law closely resembles some of the most conservative […]


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