Session 4: The Power of the ‘Unintended’: Islamisation, Freedom, and Religiosity Among the Graduates of Modern Religious Schools in Post-Revolutionary Iran

Guest Speaker: Fateme Ejaredar (Ph.D. candidate in Sociology, University of Calgary)

SEPTEMBER 8th, 2022


Modern religious schools have been one of the most significant tools used for carrying out an ‘Islamisation project’ in the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution. Immediately after the Revolution, such schools were mandated with the goal of training a religious elite capable of taking on the leadership positions of the post-revolutionary state. Drawing on 32 face-to-face interviews with the graduates of those schools, this study explores the evolution of the religious lives of the participants during and after the school years. The findings indicate that, despite the very strictly religious environments of the modern religious schools, many of their graduates experience either a shift away from religion altogether or from the version of Islam that is sanctioned by school and the state. The way these dynamics work is a classic example of what Robert Merton has called the distinction between the ‘manifest’ and ‘latent’ functions of a social act. The key factor that has contributed to the failure of this state project seems to have been the efforts to restrict the freedom of students. This finding shows the centrality of freedom for a meaningful spiritual life.

Suggested reading before the meeting 

Meeting report 

Fateme’s presentation focused on the history, objectives, and significance of Iran’s modern religious schools (including Alavi, Nikan, Refah, Roshangar, Mofid, and Imam Sadeq). After elaborating her methodological approach and the relevant theoretical framework, Fateme provided details about the body of evidence collected during her research. Fateme showed that the schools under her study gave rise to unintended consequences: many of the school graduates, in one way or another, gradually turned away from the ideals of their religious schools. Fateme gave us a detailed explanation of this important observation. Following the Q&A section, Fateme showed us how her analysis is sensitive to the general trends governing the dynamics of the entire society.