Religious Democracy in Iran?

halfling By halfling, 11th Sep 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Science>Sociology

An essay about the idea of religious democracy in Iran. This was written for one of my college classes about Iran.

Religious Democracy in Iran?

Over the course of history democracy has had many faces and many different approaches taken to it. In current times, especially for those of us living in the United States, there is a strong tendency to see our version of democracy as the only possible version. I would argue that there are valid forms of democracy outside of the boundaries of the United States. Considering the strong religious aspects of the culture of Iran one must ask if it is possible for a country to be both democratic and theocratic simultaneously. To this I would argue that it is possible but difficult, in Iran the largest hindrance you have to successfully mixing these two systems is the variety of religious beliefs, especially as they connect to politics, and the populations’ mistrust of the clergy’s financial and ethical dealings.

When considering a political system that could be described as a religious democracy it is hard to imagine this encompassing a variety of religious beliefs. This is perhaps one of the largest barriers that Iran has in establishing a democracy. In particular one must consider the basic religious factions that exist in Iraq. Unlike the more Christian religions that dominate the United States, there is a more direct link between religious and political leadership throughout the history of Iran; as Mackey writes “by the seventeenth century in Shia Iran, those individuals most knowledgeable in the law of God were recognized as the legitimate leaders, not of government, but of society. The reasons lay as much in Iranian culture and society as in religion” (Mackey 110). Considering the strong links between choosing religious leaders and political leaders, and the need by at least some sects to have these be one and the same, there is a long way to go from where Iran is now to a theocratic democracy. Even though this struggle between religion and government has been an ongoing part of Iranian history, there have been leaders that recognize a different path that allows the two to co-exist. As Ansari explains when writing about Khatami’s interview; “Yet Khatami was not saying that Iran had achieved a religious democracy,; he was arguing that Iran was seeking this eventuality, and that in effect it looked to the United States as a model” (Ansari 157). In Iran the majority of the voting population moves to being that of the post revolution youth, this alone can have significant ramifications on the direction of politics in Iran. As Schmid writes in his work on a religious democracy in Iran, “even with an alteration of the current balance of power between secular and spiritual leaders, the pace of subsequent progress toward a religious democracy is uncertain. Some form of religious democracy, however, appears inevitable” (Schmid 188-9).

Another key factor preventing a smooth and easy installation of a theocratic democracy in Iran is the mistrust of the people in the religious leaders. There is a strong perception of corruption among the religious leaders that prevents the general populace from being able to back a government that is associated with them. This belief is most strongly held when it comes to financial matters, which is no surprise considering the long history of ties between religious leaders and the donations and taxes received by them. As Beeman writes about the general populace’s opinion of the religious leaders, there is “the widespread belief that they misuse the enormous wealth at their disposal as a result of their management of religious funds” (Beeman 73). While I believe that you would be hard pressed to find a country where everyone has faith in the financial responsibility of their leaders, this particular issue in Iran has only caused the process of democracy to be delayed if not stopped completely. This belief in corruption is one of the factors in the current Green Movement in Iran and is only further fueled by these ideas; “The perception of most Iranians outside the revolutionary diehards is that every high-ranking cleric in government is corrupt” (Mackey 371).

I would argue that any government that is struggling this much with notions of corruption and protests this strong will be hard pressed to continue much longer. Perhaps this will lead to a theocratic democracy in Iran. Considering the strong religious nature of the people, culture and history of Iran it is hard to imagine a complete separation of church and state as the United States has endeavored to do. If they can come to terms with the variety of religious sects and the corruption that has plagued their government system they may be able to find a peace that will truly work for the people of Iran.

Beeman, William O., The “Great Stan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs” Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 2008 Print

Ansari, Ali M., Confronting Iran New York, Basic Books, 2006, Print

Mackey, Sandra The Iranians United States, Plume Book, 1998, Print

Schmid, Peter D “Expect the Unexpected: A Religious Democracy in Iran”, Winter/Spring 2003, Website posting of The Brown Journal of World Affairs


Democracy, Iran, Political Philosophy, Political System, Politics, Religion, Religious, Religious Points Of View, Religious Studies

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author avatar halfling
I am a busy mother of two school aged children. I have a great husband and work full time. I am an Excel and Internet addict, I also play RPGs, sew costuming and work in my yard.

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