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Religious Life Under Theocracy: The Case of Iran

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The occurrence of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, followed by a large-scale “Islamization” of society, resulted in some unique developments with regard to religious life in this country. Over the past two decades, there has been a lively debate among social scientists about the nature of such developments, and over their implications for other Middle Eastern and Islamic societies. Most of the contributions to this debate so far have been limited to the examination of different theoretical possibilities, without strong references to empirical evidence. In the present study, we attempt to address this shortcoming in the existing literature on religious developments in Iran by relying on a rich set of empirical data recently gathered through a large-scale national survey of values and attitudes in Iran. Through a composite index of religious sentiments, we explored the magnitude and the nature of religious sentiments among groups of different age and gender. Also, we examined changes with regard to religiosity in the period between 1975 and 2001. The outstanding finding is that the establishment of a theocratic regime in Iran has led to the transformation of the nature of faith, marked by a noticeable shift from “organized” to a more “personalized” religion, in which the emphasis is placed on beliefs rather than on practices. Also, among both beliefs and practices, more emphasis is placed on those with a purely individual nature, or with a social nature but organized through civic and nongovernmental bodies, as opposed to those commanded by the government. The article ends with a brief discussion of the implications of such developments for the existing debate among sociologists of religion on secularization and “de-secularization.” Our findings indicate that any linear perspective on the demise or survival of religion in society will unreasonably brush aside the fact that religion is not merely a social institution, but also a “cultural resource” that individuals may draw upon, depending on their surrounding sociopolitical circumstances and their reading of those circumstances.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada 2: University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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