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Majid Adibzadeh: Fertile Modernity and Unproductive Thinking. Historical Challenge of the Modern State and Fertility of Humanities in Iran, Tehran: Qoqnoos publication 2011, 208 S., ISBN 978-964-311-911-9
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Rezension von:
Zohreh Khorsandi
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Stephan Conermann
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Zohreh Khorsandi: Rezension von: Majid Adibzadeh: Fertile Modernity and Unproductive Thinking. Historical Challenge of the Modern State and Fertility of Humanities in Iran, Tehran: Qoqnoos publication 2011, in: sehepunkte 14 (2014), Nr. 5 [15.05.2014], URL:

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Diese Rezension ist Teil des Forums "Islamische Welten" in Ausgabe 14 (2014), Nr. 5

Majid Adibzadeh: Fertile Modernity and Unproductive Thinking

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"Fertile Modernity and Unproductive Thinking" is an introduction to the historical situation of establishing humanities in the rise of modern Iran; in the first decades of the twentieth century in which the new educational institutions were created by the agents of the first modern state in the country and paved the way for propagation of the new sciences and especially the humanities.

The question that the author intends to raise is why modernity acted as a fertile and dynamic power in the West and therefore lead to the critical humanities, responsible for the social problems; but in Iran it concluded to an entirely different result. The governors started the reconstruction and modernization of social institutions in Iran, but unlike the Western countries, in spite of establishing new Western style schools and universities, and teaching Western Humanities, critical social sciences were not created and Iranian thought remained unproductive. This question is vital and the book should be appreciated for proposing such a question. Many scholars during the last decades have tried to get to the bottom of this question to study about this question, and the author claims that they mostly focused on the challenges between tradition and modernity. Beyond this, he instead wants to study the contradictions between modern phenomenon, like the state, university and humanities.

To find the answer to this question, Adibzadeh studies the social structures in Iran. More precisely he investigates those affective institutions, like state and university in this process. He argues that the development of science, in both the West and East, was the product of social and political conditions. In the West it was the result of the process of modernization as well as the creation of intellectual and cultural movements in the new political situation. In contrast to Iran, where it was mandatory and the consequence of a growing need for a new governmental bureaucracy. This mandatory power was a determining factor in the future path of scientific institutions and especially the humanities in Iran.

This book consists of an introduction to the question of research, followed by five chapters. The first chapter is devoted to a brief history of the evolution theory, based on what Western thought experienced after industrial revolution and the preliminaries leading to the formation of humanities. The author considers modernity as the basis of the advent of humanities, simultaneous with the process of modernization that began in the sixteenth century in Western Europe and North America. He identifies modernity by introducing its main features to Western societies, like: industrial revolution, urbanism, division of labors, monetary economy, the invention of printing press and media, religious reform and secularization, emergence of the modern state, formation of bureaucratic systems, prevalence of scientific computing and rationalism. He admits that the eighteenth century coincided with the age of enlightenment, "moral science" as a science about human phenomenon appeared in the works of eminent thinkers. He then refers to the changes that have led to the distinction between natural and human sciences. This chapter provides a basis for comparing the alterations in the West and in Iran.

In the next four chapters Adibzadeh describes fundamental factors he believes are the reason for the stagnation of thought in Iran, including: formation of governmental modernization and the emergence of an employee state, historical insecurity and the lack of epistemological individuality, converting the state to the entrepreneur of scientific production and suppression of critical questioning.

In the second chapter he mentions the formation of modern state and simultaneously the extensive tendency to propagate the humanities in Iran. He focuses on the period between 1922-1942 during which Reza Shah; the king of Iran, began to implement extensive changes in all aspects of the society in order to modernize the country. A new generation of agents of social changes who were well educated in Europe and at the same time belonged to the political elite, intended to reform the current political structure. Adibzadeh argues that the royal origin of these intellectuals was a determining factor in deciding about acquiring new sciences for the sake of forming a powerful state. They were responsible for deciding which European books needed to be translated and what scientific disciplines needed to be taught at the schools or universities.

By establishing a modern state, a modernization process was mandatory in Iran and unlike in Europe, modern features of society like urbanism, industrialism, division of labors and bureaucratic systems were not the product of society, rather the will of the state. In fact the state was an alternative for the social actors of modernization. University was considered as a place to train technicians and bureaucrats who were the agents of these changes.

Insisting on the importance of the epistemological individuality in the transformation of science, in the third chapter alongside the description of the historical situation of the first generation of Iranian thinker, the author tries to give us some clues of why epistemological individuality did not emerge in Iran. In the forth chapter, the history of universities in European countries from the twelfth century on to present day were briefly reviewed and the author discusses the relationship between the governors and the universities. He then analyses the formation of new sciences and the modern education system in Iran and suggests that before this era, education was a private issue, limited to a small number of rich people, independent from the state interference. Yet, after the reformation in 1920s to 1940s, education converted to a public issue under the control of the state. He criticizes the formation of an entrepreneur state in which universities are its employee and should study and teach what the governors select. For him the most important feature of the newly established Iranian universities is the lack of autonomy in governing and planning for the scientific research and education.

Comparing the historical construction of the emergence of modern humanities in the last chapter, he predicts that the difference between the West and Iran lies in the independency of Western thinkers from the political elite and the state, that enable them to criticize the social-political status quo. Meanwhile in Iran, the dependency of Iranian scholars to the state and the regime of suppression was an obstacle for critical questioning. Despite the renovation and modernization of the country in the first decades of the twentieth century, the development of scientific and educational institutions coincided with the suppression of intellectual movements and social and cultural activities. The proposed aim for the humanities in the universities was to train well educated persons and bureaucrats for the growing public offices, instead of thinking about the society and its problematic issues.

The fundamental argument of the author is the challenge between the "modern state" and the "fertility of humanities", but the concept of humanities is not clearly defined throughout the book. According to his comments in the introduction, he intends to compare the macro structures involved in the formation of the humanities in the West and in Iran. Regardless of whether it is possible or not, similarly his definition of humanities also implies social structures and the functions of the humanities. He considers the humanities as a scientific tradition suppose to contemplate about the human society and to find the remedy for the social problems.

When he is discussing the epistemological individuality, he refers to the instable social and political condition in Iran at the time that frustrated the intellectuals. He states that this was the reason of inhibiting the growth of individualism among them. In spite of the aim to study the obstacles of growing epistemological individuality in Iran, throughout the text he attributes this situation, again to the factors he explains in the other chapters: insecurity of the intellectual atmosphere and mandatory modernization and gives us no further reasons. In fact it is not possible to answer such a question only by studying the social and political constructions of a specific society. Deliberation about the intellectual roots of resistance against individualism requires the study of history and evolution of thought by means of hermeneutical and interpretative methods.

Zohreh Khorsandi