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"Auto-Empathy: Cultures of Pragmatism and Collective Action in Revolutionary Iran" with Arash Davari, Whitman College
"Auto-Empathy: Cultures of Pragmatism and Collective Action in Revolutionary Iran" with Arash Davari, Whitman College
WhenFriday, Nov. 17, 2017, 3:30 – 5 p.m.
Campus roomDenny 211
Event typesAcademics
Event sponsorsThe Department Near Eastern Languages and Civilization
Persian & Iranian Studies Program at the University of Washington

Persian & Iranian Studies Program Workshop presents:

Auto-Empathy: Cultures of Pragmatism and Collective Action in Revolutionary Iran
Dr. Arash Davari, Whitman College

Friday, November 17
Denny Hall Room 211

Between the Fall of 1977 and the late Summer of 1978, the language of activism and the actual experience of revolutionary mobilization in Iran were at odds with one another. As Charles Kurzman notes in The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, efforts to mobilize everyday people for martyrdom fell on deaf ears. A close study of the historical record reveals a wide-spread pragmatic disposition; on these terms, we should rightly dispel causal explanations that attribute the revolt to cultural determinism.

Yet, in positing a sharp distinction between pragmatism and cultural specificity, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran goes too far. How did the constructed repertoires of resistance in revolutionary Iran---or rather, the cultural practices produced in efforts to disrupt social and political order---unintentionally allow for a pragmatic disposition on the part of the revolution’s non-activist mass? Is pragmatism a universal disposition immune to cultural specificity? Or can it emerge from historically-situated cultural practice?

In response, this talk revisits activist efforts to incite revolt in Iran, from leftists in the late 1960s and early 1970s to liberals and Islamists in the year before the revolt became mass-based. It focuses in particular on the history of mourning ceremonies, or chihilum (fortieth-day mourning rites), as techniques of protest. Between 1968 and 1978, the language surrounding these events produced “auto-empathy”---an unexpected basis of solidarity predicated on the convergence between conceptions of shahādat and discourses of individual human rights.  In “auto-empathy,” we may discern a decidedly cultural frame of reference that nevertheless coheres with the open-ended pragmatism of actors on the ground animating Kurzman’s “anti-explanation.”

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