Morteza Motahhari and the Rise of New Theology in Iran

Ata Anzali
Apr 10, 2024, 12:15 pm1:15 pm
Free, Open to the Public



Event Description



Morteza Motahhari is one of the most well-known names associated with the regime that came to dominate Iran after the revolution of 1979. Perhaps because of this close association, he remains one of the most misunderstood figures of his generation as well. In this talk, I will argue that to understand Motahhari as the

"theoretician" or "ideologue" of the Islamic government, as it is widely claimed by proponents of the regime, completely misses the mark. His significance does not lie in his contributions to Islamic philosophy or his efforts to offer a rational understanding of Shi'ism either. Rather, I argue that his lifelong calling and vocation was that of an 'alem and a motakallem and it is precisely by looking at his life and works through this lens that we can begin to appreciate the crucial role he played the history of modern Shi' i thought.


Ata Anzali is an Associate Professor of religion at Middlebury College. He received his PhD from the department of Religious Studies at Rice University. Prior to that, he studied at the Qom Seminary focusing on Islamic rational disciplines, including speculative mysticism ('erfan) and philosophy. He also received a master’s degree in Islamic Philosophy and Theology from the University of Tehran. Anzali has had an enduring interest in mystical traditions of Islam. He is also interested in intellectual and social histories of the early modern and modern Iranian religious thought. His first monograph, ‘Mysticism’ in Iran: the Safavid Roots of a Modern Concept brings these interests together in an in depth examination of the emergence of the category of ‘erfan as an alternative to tasawwuf during the Safavid era. He is currently working on a research project that focuses on Morteza Motahhari (d. 1979), his significance, and his contributions to modern Iranian religious thought.

Poster for event, information in text.
Alison Cummins