class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"Can former knowledge turn out to be false?

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

KIJAN ESPAHANGIZI

Applied Epistemology and »Science-building« in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 1979–2010

Summary

In this project I argue that epistemological debates on the history, philosophy and sociology of modern science have had genuine practical relevance for the scientific development in Iran, which in 1979 took up the challenge to »reinvent itself« as modern Islamic country. Based on four historiographical case studies on institutions and actors involved in Iranian »science-building«, this project will provide basic research on the role and impact of studies on science, i.e. history, philosophy and sociology of science, in processes of understanding, envisioning and fostering knowledge production in the Islamic Republic of Iran.


Islamization of Knowledge in the Islamic Republic of Iran

In 1979, the religious leaders of the Iranian revolution proclaimed the creation of a whole new Islamic society with an own worldview and cultural outlook. In order to counteract the »Westoxication« of the Iranian society and lead its Islamic transformation a so-called »cultural revolution« was launched. In particular, the new regime initiated the »Islamization« of universities, higher education, science, and knowledge, as supposed strongholds of western modernity, drawing on theoretical debates on postcolonial Islamic epistemologies which had emerged in the 1960s as an outcome of the ongoing global »revival of the Islamic world«. Since then, the reinvention and restructuring of knowledge production in postrevolutionary Iran, which is an ongoing open-end process, is closely related to epistemological debates on the nature, dynamics and limits of modern scientific research. Historical, philosophical and sociological knowledge on science has thus gained genuine practical relevance in the historical development of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Iranian society has not only become an unique experimental ground for scientific development in a modern Islamic country since 1979 but also an unique research object to study the action-guiding value/impact of what can be called »applied« epistemologies.


»Science-building« in postrevolutionary Iran


When solely looking at the top-down efforts of the Iranian government to islamize science, knowledge and education from 1979 until today, one can come to the conclusion that this political agenda has failed or at least stayed a mere ideology: The cleansing of the university faculties of supposedly »westernized« scholars was not able to silence neither critical thinking nor intellectual exchange with »western« scientific discourses, the curricular reform from elementary school to higher education failed to give birth to the envisioned »new Islamic man«, and ultimately, there is still no convincing and consisting answer to question what a truly Islamic Science should be and how it could be implemented in practice. So, on the one hand, various Iranists emphasize, that knowledge production in Iran was, and still is, undoubtedly constrained by the effects of ideological Islamization since the revolution. On the other hand, recent studies on science in Iran have shown that Iran has witnessed, after a short post-revolutionary and war-related decline, the emergence of a new vibrant scientific community and a remarkable boost in scientific output when compared especially to other Islamic countries. One possible approach to this quantitative and qualitative growth of scientific research in Iran would be claiming that this development has and is taking place in spite of and against ongoing Islamization efforts. But reducing the »Islamization of knowledge« to a mere »Lysenkoist project« and antagonizing these supposedly pseudoscientific efforts with an oppressed »real«, non-ideological, and modern science in Iran fails to grasp the actual productivity of what is a broad socio-cultural process that has irreversibly shaped the scientific landscape in Iran. In contrast to such a dualist view, i.e. Islamization of science on the one hand and scientific modernization on the other hand, in this project »science-building« in post-revolutionary Iran will be conceptualized as a heterogeneous process which encompasses manifold interacting, competing, enforcing, or antagonizing actors and projects with different understandings, objectives, and strategies of science-building. Thus, the starting point of the project is to assume that Islamization as well as modernization tendencies (in all their diverse facets), governmental as well as non-governmental efforts have to be seen as integral dimensions of a broader process of scientific development in post-revolutionary Iran. Rather than opposing each other fundamentally, these epistemological tendencies are constantly communicating. These negotiations are, and this is the initial hypothesis of the project, mediated through debates on the history, philosophy and sociology of science. Departing from the point that the different approaches towards understanding and analyzing scientific practice, its dynamics and institutions have practical relevance for defining knowledge production in an Islamic country, the project asks for the concrete place and impact of »applied« epistemologies in »science building« in post-revolutionary Iran. The notion of »science-building« is not reduced to forms of governmental action only. It rather comprehends, in a wider sense, all projects, strategies and efforts to foster, promote and »build« science. The second part of my argument is that these epistemological resonances in the »science-building« processes of the developing country Iran have also a constitutive global dimension. The debates on history, philosophy and sociology of science led within Iran are – on a intellectual, personal and institutional level – embedded in, entangled with and shaped by international academic discourses on science which themselves have developed, changed and diversified substantially since the 1960s.


Method


With its central objective to analyze the action-guiding impact of epistemological knowledge in postrevolutionary Iran the project contributes substantially to various research fields. Being strongly rooted in the debates on global history of science and postcolonial science studies which have emerged and were able to draw considerable attention in the last couple of years the project offers new insight into a regional scientific landscape which in spite of its growing geopolitical importance is astonishingly underrepresented. There are only very few disparate studies on the historical development of scientific practice in a country which is playing such an leading role in the postcolonial revival of the muslim world in the last decades. Moreover, with its focus on the practical implications of epistemological research for »science-building« the project connects the history of science to the history of humanities which has become a new focus in recent science studies. The project also contributes to the field of Modern Iran Studies by building an innovative bridge between the well-developed field of intellectual histories on the discoursive encounter of Islam and Modernity in Iran on the one hand and the rather underdeveloped research on local epistemic practices in Iranian knowledge production on the other hand. In order to gain access to the dynamic interplay of actors, concepts and projects in Iranian »science-building« methodologically there will be four historiographical case studies on institutional environments involved in epistemological »science-building« in postrevolutionary Iran. The project is basic research and its strong focus on few selected institutions not provides a first step towards drawing a general historic map of the »science-building« landscape in Iran.


The case studies are:

1) Iranian Institute of Philosophy (IRIP) in Tehran (Mo’assese-ye Pajuheshi-e Hekmat wa Falsafe-ye Iran)
2) Institute of Humanities and Cultural Studies (Pajuheshgah-e Ulum-e Ensani wa Motale’at-e Farhangi) in Tehran
3) National Research Institute for Science Policy in Tehran (Markaz-e Tahghighat-e Siasat-e Elmi-ye Keshvar)
4) Iranian Academy of Sciences (Farhangestan-e Ulum-e Djomhuri-ye Eslami-ye Iran)