Iran: State and Religion in Modern Era
The three events that were pivotal turning points in modern Iran history are Constitutional Crisis, the establishment of the Pahlavi Dynasty, and the Iranian Revolution. The Constitutional Crisis occurred between 1905 and 1911, which was mainly due to the conflicting interests of the foreign powers, who were interested in Iran’s domestic activities, the government, local communities, and the ulama. There was also bitter rivalry and protests in the country due to Shah’s indebtedness to the Russians, and Russian support of the Baha’is. During this period, the coalition of ulama, merchants, and westernized intelligentsia established a constitution that remained in force until 1979.
The Pahlavi Dynasty was established by Reza Khan in 1925 when he declared himself Iran’s Shah. The dynasty reigned from 1925 to 1979. During the reign of the Pahlavi, there was a centralized government for the first time in Iran. Additionally, there was considerable economic modernization and cultural westernization of Iran. Some of the causes of the rebellion of the ulama were the dynasty’s introduction of secular education systems, the reorganization of the judicial system, which minimized the ulama’s duties in administration, and land reform, which was opposed by some wealthy landlords.
The Iranian Revolution occurred in 1979. The ulama led this revolution. Accordingly, the Iranian Revolution was mostly a religious opposition to state authority. Noteworthy, this revolt marked the end of the Pahlavi Dynasty.
How have the ‘ulama’ (clerical class) related to the Iranian state over the past two hundred years? How has that relationship changed?
The ulama have been in constant conflict with the Iranian state. From the beginning, the ulama have always wanted to have a central role in determining the culture, beliefs, and conduct of the Iranian society. As a result, they have always advocated for having a significant role in education, courts, and economic policies of the country. Following the Iranian Revolution, the ulama has enjoyed a substantial stake in determining the government’s decisions. Since the current government is required to be under the rule of jurisprudential to the ulama, the conflicts between the state and ulama have significantly reduced.
How have Russia, Britain, and the United States shaped modern Iranian history?
Russia, Britain, and the United States shaped modern Iran through their influence on political, economic, and social aspects of the government. In the late 19th century, Britain and Russia had much interest in Iranian’s resources, which resulted in bitter sentiments among the locals. For example, Iran was forced to give extensive concessions to Baron de Reuters. Britain also acquired the right to exploit Iranian Oil in 1914, and it also played a major role in avoiding the nationalization of Iranian oil in 1954. Russia had territorial and economic interests in Iran. For example, Russian seized the Caspian Sea and Armenia from Iran 1828. Russia was also involved in Iran’s politics, and it financed various groups that promoted its interests. The United States interest in Iran started during the Cold War period. The United States’ interest in Iran was mainly aimed at frustrating the Soviet’s expansion in Middle Eastern Asia. To achieve this goal, the United States provided Iran government with military and economic advice and also supplied it with military aid. With the American support, Iran successfully resisted Soviet’s attempt to occupy Northern provinces, its demand for oil concessions, and also its sponsorship of rebel groups in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan.