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HIST3215 Revolutions in Modern Iran Part 2

Module Overview

The 1979 Revolution in Iran is associated with the Shiite clerics. It was not, however, the first time that the clerics were involved in a popular movement in Iran. They took an active part in the movement for the establishment of a Constitution, even though the secular elites introduced the idea of Constitution and played a key role in its success in 1907. The 1979 Revolution was mainly aimed at removing the Shah from power, not least because he had ignored the application of the Constitution for the benefit of his autocracy. Significantly, however, while the clerics took power thanks to the 1979 Revolution of democratic aspirations, they endeavoured to destroy the legacy of Constitutional Revolution that they had supported a century earlier. This module will study this shift of attitude from 1907 to 1979 as a mirror of socio-political and intellectual developments during a period of “modernisation” in the twentieth century. Part 2 will examine the 1979 Revolution and explore the socio-political factors behind the Revolution and the triggering incidences that led to its occurrence. Relating to this period, we will scrutinise the different ideologies (socialism, liberalism and Islamism) and socio-political forces behind the 1979 Revolution and will discuss its religious and/or secular nature(s). Even though the first incidences that led to the Revolution began on university campuses with students seeking more freedom and democracy, the fact that the clerics were able to take over the helm of the Revolution and change its course towards an “Islamic” Revolution, warrants exploring the question: Was the Revolution of 1979 inspired by socialism and Marxist-Leninist ideology or did it originate in the idea of the sovereignty of the jurist (velâyat-e faqih) that Khomeini tried to theorise since the 1940s? We will also examine the impact of the end of the Cold War on the timing of the 1979 Revolution. We will also look into the so-called “Islamic Revolution”, its aims and projects, based on the messianic ideology according to which clerics should rule until the return of the Mahdi. This study will provide insights into the current crisis in the Middle East, considering the involvement of the clerical regime in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere in the Islamic world.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

- Examine the social and political developments in the twentieth century Iran that led to the 1979 Revolution; - Study the social and intellectual background of the Shiite clerics to evaluate their involvement in politics and social movements; - Analyse the social components of the opposition movement under the Pahlavi regime; - Examine the modernisation projects of the Pahlavi regime and its relevance to the constitutional tents; - Analyse the developments from the summer 1978 to the summer 1979 that decided the fate of the revolution, the country and the region for the decades to come.

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.


The second part of the module will examine the 1979 Revolution and explore the socio-political factors behind the Revolution and the triggering incidences that led to its occurrence. The focus will particularly be on the period from 1977, when the first signs of weakness appeared in the Shah’s regime to the Shah’s death in July 1980. Relating to this period, we will scrutinise the role played by the West, in particular the USA, in the fall of the Shah based on the recently disclosed archives and interviews with politicians involved in the Pahlavi regime. Part 2 could also study the following issues: 1. The long-term and short term causes of the Revolution, such as the consequences of the 1973 Oil Crisis, and the Shah’s illness. 2. The Jimmy Carter’s project for more democracy. 3. The anti-Western discourse developed in Iran amongst the secular opposition. It is within this context that the role of Ayatollah Khomeini in the Revolution needs to be reassessed. 4. The first Constitution of the Islamic Republic drafted around the principles of Independence, Freedom and Republic. 5. The swift shift from Republicanism (the pillar of the Constitution) to the absolute power of the Supreme Leader (velâyat-e faqih). 6. The project of exporting the revolution to the detriment of establishing democracy. 7. The anti-Western foreign policy of the clerics that resulted in their dependence on Russia and China.

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.

Independent Study252
Total study time300

Resources & Reading list

Ervand Abrahamian (2008). A History of Modern Iran. 

Nikki R. Keddie (2003). Modern Iran, Roots and Results of Revolution. 

Ervand Abrahamian (1999). Tortured Confessions Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran. 

Ervand Abrahamian (1993). Khomeinism, Essays on the Islamic Republic. 

Nikki R. Keddie (1999). Qajar Iran and the Rise of Reza Khan 1796-1925. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (4000 words) 50%
Exam  (3 hours) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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