Iran’s New Century and the Formation of National Identity

Iran’s New Century and the Formation of National Identity

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The Iran 1400 Project sponsored a panel in the Middle East Studies Association’s 55th annual meeting. Four panelists, Dr. Rasool Nafisi, Dr. Aram Hessami, Dr. Hossein Seifzadeh, and Mr. Sydney Martin presented their papers on different aspects of Iranian identity. In this video, you can watch the discussant, Dr. Yass Alizadeh, presenting her takeaways from each panelist. Panel Description: Iran enters a new century in March, yet the struggle to define Iran’s cultural identity remains contested and unresolved. Iran’s rich and complex history complicates the question: it is an ancient civilization with multiple ethnicities, multiple religions, and numerous sects, and a society in which xenophobic tendencies dwell uncomfortably with an infatuation with the West. With such a heritage, what are the parameters of Iran’s cultural identities at the turn of the new Iranian century? Do they include Aryan nationalism? Statism? Or is a militant and assertive Shi’ism a defining characteristic? Does the long tradition of monarchy define Iran, perhaps along with nostalgia for Iran’s pre-Islamic religious traditions? Perhaps the defining characteristic of Iran’s cultural identity is to be found in the Persian language and poetry, of which Iranians are famously proud? Even if we allow that Iran’s national identity is a mosaic of all these sensibilities and susceptibilities, which of these competing tendencies is gaining salience and which are fading? And how have globalization and information technology, two phenomena that have shaped the postmodern condition, influenced the formation of Iranian identity? This panel will explore these conflicting identities and seek to illuminate some of their more intricate aspects. This panel welcomes scholars from both the humanities and social sciences to participate in this important dialogue.

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Yass Alizadeh is a Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University. Her research focuses on the ingenious layering of ethical themes in the ambiguously coded language of folktales in Modern Iran, the intricate link between politics and fiction, and the critical role of metaphors in the reframing of Iran’s classical oral tales.

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