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Shi'a Political Thought And The Challenge Of Democracy: From The Constitutionalism Of Akhund Khorasani To The Republicanism Of Ayatollah Khomeini


A lecture by Mohsen Kadivar of Tarbiyat Modaress University in Tehran that compares the roles of Akhund Khorasani and Ayatollah Khomeini in two of the most important events in the history of Iran in the 20th century, the Constitutional and the Islamic Revolution.




12 May 2006, 7pm

Khalili Lecture Theatre, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Russell Square, London

Organised by

Iran Heritage Foundation & London Middle East Institute at SOAS.

Supported by

Rouzbeh Pirouz.


Shi'a Political Thought and the Challenge of Democracy: From the Constitutionalism of Akhund Khorasani to the Republicanism of Ayatollah Khomeini
Mohsen Kadivar - Tarbiyat Modarres University, Tehran

The Constitutional Movement and the Islamic Revolution stand as two defining moments in the contemporary history of Iran. Akhund Mohammad Kazem Khorasani and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini played similar roles as leaders of these two social movements. Both at the height of their religious authority played pivotal roles in the downfall of the shahs of their time and the establishment of a political system stemming from the people's will. Both men were relatively successful in fostering the evolution and democratization of Shi'a jurisprudence (fiqh), by adopting modern political concepts, although neither of them had a deep understanding of these concepts and their requirements and consequences.

But despite their similarities, these two religious leaders had very different political approaches, stemming from their different theological and jurisprudential foundations. This lecture explores these differences and their implications. Akhund Khorasani's constitutionalism is in line with his theological and jurisprudential foundations. But Ayatollah Khomeini's republicanism contradicts his own theological and jurisprudential foundations, especially the theory of velayat-e faqih, to which he remained faithful to the end. Khorasani's political theory is more democratic than that of Ayatollah Khomeini. It can even be said that Khorasani's political theory is the most progressive and democratic offered so far by a Shi'a jurist.

Mohsen Kadivar studied in the Qom Seminaries and obtained his ijtihad certificate in religious knowledge from Ayatollah Montazeri in 1996. In 1998 he completed his PhD in Western and Islamic Philosophy, with a focus on Transcendental Philosophy, from Tarbiyat Modarres University, where he is now Chair of the Philosophy Department. He has authored 11 books and over 50 articles in philosophy, Islamic theology, Shi'a political jurisprudential thought, and general Islamic law. Among his best known books are Theories of Government in Shi'a Fiqh and Government by Guardianship (hokumat-e vela'i). In 1998, following a controversial speech, Kadivar was arrested, and subsequently spent 18 months in prison. He is among those religious intellectuals in Iran who are critical of velayat-e faqih (guardianship of the jurist) and believes in the compatibility of Islam, human rights and democracy. Publication of his latest book, Siyasatnameh-e Khorasani (Khorasani's Political Letters) has been refused for over a year.

Lecture series

This lecture is part of a lecture series convened by Ziba Mir-Hosseini, entitled The Legacy of the Constitutional Revolution: A Hundred Years of Struggle for Democracy. The lectures focus on the ever-present tensions between religiosity and secularism, and between despotism in Iran's quest for modernity.

Ziba Mir-Hosseini is Research Associate at the London Middle East Institute at SOAS. An independent consultant, researcher and writer on Middle Eastern issues, specializing in society, gender, family relations, Islamic law and development.

Admission free

The Iran Heritage Foundation, 5 Stanhope Gate, London W1K 1AH. T +44 (20) 74934766, F +44 (20) 74999293,

Additional information

For additional information about the lecture series, go to


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