Mystic Regimes: Sufism and the State in Iran, from the Late Qajar Era to the Islamic Republic

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This book is conceived from an anthropological interest in contemporary Iranian society and the Culture and Sympathy of Sufism. It is a revision of the author’s dissertation, defended at the University of Amsterdam in September 2000. It is about two Iranian Sufi orders as they have developed socially over this century. They both claim to represent, exclusively, the Ne’matollahi order. The tensions contained within this competition for spiritual authority have been paralleled by challenges to internal cohesion in each order and augmented by the need to relate to worldly regimes.

The author briefly discusses theoretical notions in his exploration of the modern Safi alishahi and Soltan alishahi orders, which for reasons explained below he conceptualizes as mystic regimes. Sufi leaders were able to negotiate their orders effectively, moreover, to the extent that they were able to establish internal control. Many Sufi affiliates in the Islamic Republic have, for instance, been less than happy with the restraints that their masters imposed for reasons of self-preservation. Performance upon these tensions has, in turn, significantly determined social developments in the Sufi orders. He addresses these changing interrelations diachronically, juxtaposing the Pahlavi era and the Islamic Republic, and favoring performance in the Sufi orders as a vista to account for their social development. There is thus a double comparison – of orders and eras – which makes for the description of four mystic regimes. He refers to his study as exploration because contemporary Iranian, Shiite Sufism is largely an unknown research field. Furthermore, exploration stresses the openness of history under consideration.

In part one addresses academic regimes – research paradigms – in the study of Sufism, and it explores the long – term developmental history of the Ne’matollahi Sufi order. Chapter one depicts a wondrous episode in which a range of transnational interests colluded  in transhistorical and mystical explorations of Iranian Shiism. Chapter two seeks to ground the exploration of Ne’matollahi history in a different analysis. Chapter three describes Sufism’s transformation in the context of the nation-state. Chapter four examines the contrary Sufi regimes in the face of political polarisation. Chapter five treats the Sufi regimes in the decade of war and revolution. Chapter six probes an ideological rapprochement between Sufism and the state from 1989, through Sufism ‘ continuous ethical r¡veil and the emergence of state mysticism. Part Four and chapter seven bring the explorations of comparative social development and cultural performance on a broader theoretical plane, by confronting them with discussions concerning civil society.

Matthijs Eduard Willem van den Bos is a scholar of Iranian and Shi’i Studies. He teaches in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck College of the University of London. He has been a Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, a fellow of the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and a fellow at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) in Leiden.

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Matthijs van den Bos










van den Bos, Matthijs; Mystic Regimes: Sufism and the State in Iran, from the Late Qajar Era to the Islamic Republic, Leiden, Brill, 2002, 286 p.