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HIST3214 Revolutions in Modern Iran Part 1

Module Overview

Revolution is a modern concept in Islamic countries. Prior to the 20th century, no social or political change was either perceived as or called “revolution”. However, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the biggest revolution of the 20th century after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Earlier in the century, Iran had also experienced the “Constitutional Revolution” of 1907, and then the “White Revolution” of 1962, although the latter was bloodless and consisted of a range of reforms presumably to pre-empt a bloody revolution. The idea of “revolution” was thus dominant in the political discourse across 20th-century Iran. It is significant that whilst the 1907 and 1979 revolutions were inspired by Western ideas, they were also distinguished by being led by the Shiite clerical establishment. Following the 1979 Revolution, Iran has entered a “Post-Revolution” era since revolution is no longer deemed a solution to socio-political crisis. However, for the Ayatollahs, another type of revolution, namely the “Islamic Revolution” has begun and is now the mission of their regime in Iran; bound to continue until the return of the Mahdi, the hidden Imam, who will be assisted, according to Shiite traditions, by Jesus Christ. This module will discuss these revolutions in Iran and their perceptions by the different social and political forces who participated in them. Part 1 will examine the role of the clerics in the Constitution, in the light of their political motivations and intellectual background (the Shiite theory of government). We will also study two major events in the 20th century that, while they were not called revolutions, were certainly bloody: the coup d’état of 1953 and the insurgence of the followers of Khomeini in 1963 to oppose the “White Revolution” of the Shah.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- Examine the social and political developments from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century that led to different revolutionary movements; - Study the social and intellectual background of the Shiite clerics to evaluate their involvement in politics and social movements; - Analyse the social makeup of the Constitutional Revolution and its intellectual components; - Examine concepts of “revolution” and “reform”, i.e. revolution as an inevitable consequence of crisis and “reform” as a solution to crisis; - Explore the historiography around revolution and its different applications

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The nature of the political, social, cultural, and economic changes taking place in Iran in the early twentieth century;
  • The social and intellectual transformation from tradition to modernity in Modern Iran
  • The historiographical debates related to the Constitutional Revolution
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently and unsupervised for extended periods of time when preparing for class and for assessed coursework;
  • Display effective time management, not least in adhering to a timetable for the preparation, writing, and submission of a lengthy assignment;
  • Make a valuable contribution to group activities rooted in effective teamwork;
  • Write speedily yet fluently for an extended period of time in examination conditions, and retain that ability to organise and clearly articulate your ideas when [post-graduation] working under pressure;
  • Adapt and apply the skills and knowledge acquired or consolidated during the module to problem-solving and policy-making in the workplace;
  • Adhere to guidelines re referencing/footnotes and demonstrate a graduate-level (i.e. mature and sophisticated) prose style;
  • Read critically both primary and secondary materials and provide scholarly analysis of the current developments.
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Explain how the clerics took power
  • Provide scholarly-based articles on the rise of Islamism
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand concepts of modernity and tradition in Twentieth-Century Iran
  • Distinguish between modernism and modernisation
  • Distinguish between Islamism and clericalism
  • Understand what is Khomeinism
  • Gather, assimilate, synthesise, and interpret a wide range of primary and secondary source material as the first stage in writing your essay;
  • Engage with specific texts, comment upon them fluently, cogently, and at length; and in so doing demonstrate depth of knowledge, insight, and understanding appropriate to the advanced study of a specialist area;
  • Draw upon that same bank of knowledge, insight, and understanding in examination conditions.


In Part 1, we will study the Constitutional Revolution, its roots and consequences. This will include the historical contexts in which the idea of Constitution was introduced. In particular, we will explore the ideas of “modernity”, “progress” and “rule of law”; ideas taken from the West that triggered the constitutional movement. We will examine the role of the clerics in the Constitution in the light of their ideological background and political motivations. We will study the Shiite theory of government developed by the Shiite clerics in the early twentieth century; to what extent they were in favour or against the Constitution and how their involvement in the constitutional movement affected the outcome of the Revolution. Part 1 will include the following issues: 1 The reformist and revolutionary dimensions of the Constitutional Movement in the context of early twentieth-century Iran. 2 The concept of constitution and how it was perceived by a wide range of constitutionalists. 3 The Pahlavi regime and its modernisation agenda, its nature and its relationships with the clerical establishment. 4 The relationships between the clerics and the state. 5 The role of the Pahlavi regime in the rise of the clerics. 6 The modernity of the Pahlavi regime and the modernity of the opposition movement

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Brief introductory lecture; seminars, presentations, text analysis - extensive use of contemporary feature, and documentary film Learning activities include: - preparation for twice weekly [double period] classes by reading and interpreting a variety of sources, both primary and secondary - enhancement of your organisational and analytical skills through the two complementary modes of formal assessment - Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your ideas on a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Wider reading or practice156
Preparation for scheduled sessions96
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Charles Kurzman (ed). Modernist Islam, 1840-1940: A Sourcebook. 

A.H. Hairi (1977). Shiism and Constitutionalism in Iran: a study of the role played by the Persian residents of Iraq in Iranian politics. 

Religion and politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period.

A.K.S. Lambton (1956). â€œSecret Societies and the Persian Revolution of 1905-6", St Anthony’s Papers, no. 11. , pp. pp. 43-60.

Nikki Keddie (1983). Religion and Politics in Iran. 

Nikki Keddie (1966). Religion and Rebellion in Iran. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Timed Assignment  (3000 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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