Secular Writers’ Engagement with Religious Tradition in 20th Century Iran: From Undermining to Deconstructing; A Generational Paradigm Shift

Elham Hosnieh


The present article is an attempt to conceptually discuss the development of modern secular approaches to religious tradition in contemporary Iran through the lenses of literary works. Throughout the paper, secularism has been understood as in the notion of “changes in the conditions of belief”, proposed by Charles Taylor. With José Casanova’s reading of Taylor’s conception, secularism becomes equivalent to a gradual construction of new and contextually specific images of the self and society, different from European narrative of religious decline. Accordingly, this article revisits the category of the Iranian ‘secular’ writer by looking into the trajectory of the Iranian literature field and its shifting relation to religion, itself influenced by the change in how secularism is understood within the field, during the 20th century. The paper argues that the 1979 revolution and its aftermath led to a paradigm shift in the writers’ conception of secular engagement with the religious tradition when compared with the first and second generation of writers. The first generation of Iranian secular writers mostly undermined the religious tradition as outdated rituals, and the second generation made a return to it as an authentic part of the Iranian identity under the local and global socio-political influences. The third generation went beyond such rejection/embrace narratives, came to see the religious tradition as a constructed cultural legacy, and engaged in re-reading and deconstructing that legacy in new secular ways.


Iranian Literature, Secularism, Religious Tradition, Literary Modernity

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