Iran and Global Decolonization: Call for Papers

We invite submissions for a symposium on Iran and Global Decolonization, organized by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California Los Angeles, to be held online on THURSDAY, MAY 20 and FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2021. Iranian activists, dissidents, entrepreneurs, non-state actors, diplomats, prostitutes, homeless and migrant populations engaged with and experienced colonialism and decolonization in different ways, both inside Iran and beyond its borders. The symposium invites scholars whose work investigates Iran’s experiences with colonialism and decolonization from a multiplicity of perspectives – including race and ethnicity; foreign relations; intellectual history; social and economic networks; as well as cultural studies – to answer questions such as: What role did decolonization play in Iran’s interactions with the Global South? How did Iran respond to decolonization movements? What networks did Iranian women and minorities create to confront their experiences of dispossession reinforced by colonialism or decolonization? How did Islam and secular ideologies help proponents of decolonization movements to articulate their struggles? 

In the decades after the Second World War, dozens of countries around the world achieved independence from colonial rule, including Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Kuwait (among others) in Asia and Senegal, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Angola (among others) in Africa. Similar processes had taken place earlier in the Americas. This period of rapid decolonization after WWII fundamentally changed the dynamics of global politics. Between 1946 and 1970, membership of the United Nations increased from 35 to 127 nations, and the organization became a forum in which these newly independent states could argue for the continuation of decolonization and the recognition of national rights. 

From the 1950s onwards, and with increased urgency in the 1970s, Iran sought to establish close political relationships with the newly independent countries in the Global South. Iran presented itself as a powerful, wealthy, and like-minded ally – an alternative to the colonial powers of Europe. Though it was never formally colonized, Iran had, from the early nineteenth century, suffered repeated violations of its sovereignty at the hands of the Russians and British. This shared experience of imperialism allowed Iran to present itself as inherently sympathetic to the formerly colonized states of Africa, Asia and the Americas despite its imperial self-image and impulses.

In the same period, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist movements around the world had a profound impact on intellectual thought inside Iran. The rising influence of the United States in the Middle East gave voice to new anti-imperialist currents in Iran that prompted intellectuals simultaneously to call for civil liberties, social justice and democracy. 

We hope this symposium will show the necessity of studying Iran’s experiences with colonialism and decolonization in a global framework in an effort to broaden conversations around these subjects and to expose the complex networks that Iran created and shared with (de)colonized communities.

Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be emailed to: no later than Friday 15 January 2021.

Convened by: Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (University of Pennsylvania) and Robert Steele (UCLA)


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