Democracy in Modern Iran

Islam, Culture, and Political Change

234 pages

October, 2011

ISBN: 9780814763445



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Ali Mirsepassi is Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Sociology at New York University and author of Intellectual Discourses and Politics of Modernization: Negotiating Modernity in Iran.

All books by Ali Mirsepassi

Can Islamic societies embrace democracy? In Democracy in Modern Iran, Ali Mirsepassi maintains that it is possible, demonstrating that Islam is not inherently hostile to the idea of democracy. Rather, he provides new perspective on how such a political and social transformation could take place, arguing that the key to understanding the integration of Islam and democracy lies in concrete social institutions rather than pre-conceived ideas, the every day experiences rather than abstract theories. Mirsepassi, an Iranian native, provides a rare inside look into the country, offering a deep understanding of how Islamic countries like Iran and Iraq can and will embrace democracy.

Democracy in Modern Iran challenges readers to think about Islam and democracy critically and in a far more nuanced way than is done in black-and-white dichotomies of Islam vs. Democracy, or Iran vs. the West. This essential volume contributes important insights to current discussions, creating a more complex conception of modernity in the Eastern world and, with it, Mirsepassi offers to a broad Western audience a more accurate, less clichéd vision of Iran’s political reality.


  • “This is an important book, moving beyond describing and categorizing Iranian intellectual trajectories over the modern era and towards a judicious intervention in that debate itself... One cannot but applaud the effort to instill a “practice what you preach” ethic into the Iranian intellectual zeitgeist.”

    —Middle East Journal

  • “An extraordinary work that provides an invaluable and much-needed historical, intellectual, and cultural context for developing an understanding of Iran’s society and how Islam has affected political change in that nation. This is a meticulously researched analysis with an original interpretation of the evolving events in Iran; in short, a major volume to be welcomed and celebrated.”

    —Vartan Gregorian, author of Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith

  • Democracy in Modern Iran, however, is much more than simply a commentary on Iranian politics. In essence, it is a work of comparative political theory that examines the relationship between culture and democracy.”

    Democracy: A Journal of Ideas

  • “The author convincingly argues for a view of democracy based not on ‘objective logic,’ but rather on pragmatic lines...[Mirsepassi] does deliver a variety of useful perspectives on the nature of the contemporary hostility.”

    —PBS’s Frontline website

  • "Mirsepassi's study is a valuable contribution which questions the legitimacy of hypothetical and textual generalisations about the relationship between secularism, religion, culture, and politics." 

    —Burak Ozcetin, Political Studies Review

  • "Democracy in Modern Iran reflects diligent research and insiders' insights. Its convoluted style notwithstanding, it is informative and thought-provoking. Any scholar of social change, the Middle East, or of Iran will benefit from reading it."

    —Brigitte U. Neary, Critical Sociology