By Ehsan Shariati

Shariati and the future of humanities and social sciences

November 29, 2017

TEHRAN _ Greetings to the distinguished professors and researchers for their presence and participation here today, particularly to the venerable guests who come from far away, and finally to the conference organizers, who against all odds, embraced the challenge of sponsoring this initiative.

The role of Dr. Ali Shariati, in employing new human sciences (especially history and sociology), for a scientific and realistic understanding of the national and religious culture of Iran and Islam, was a sobering experience and this endeavor is still ongoing and current.

The work of Shariati, following the foundation of this pathway by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (and the philosophical depth of Iqbal of Lahore), had two profound effects. It managed to posit the "reconstruction" of religious thought in the Islamic world, thanks to modern human sciences, and prepare a cultural and ideological resistance to the era of "ideologies and revolutions" (anti-imperialist, anti-despotic and anti-capitalist). It also created among the younger generation awareness of and hope for a new reflection on the basis of the autochthonous culture. The widespread impact of the Shariatian discourse, recognized by his supporters as well as by his critics, testifies to his success and enthusiastic reception.

However, since the time of Shariati until today, we have witnessed a paradigm shift, a change in “episteme” in the humanities.  Progressing from at first the transformation of the positivist and scientistic model (explaining the ‘causes’ of the facts), to later the hermeneutic understanding and phenomenological description (understanding the ‘meaning’ of events), promoted the "Science" of humanities at an unmatched level. With the entry of philosophy and science in the era of the "posts" (postmodern, post-metaphysical, post-industrial society, etc ...), and the "ends" (end of history, of man, of ideologies, etc ...), the concepts of man as an object of humanities research, as well as "objectivity" and scientific impartiality, are now challenged.

"The future" of the humanities is profoundly linked to the redefinition of "man's humanity" and to the "objectivity of (this) object" (human). In each of these sciences, it is central to explore a humanity in search of a superior dignity to that promised yesterday by ideologies and an objectivity in the phenomenological sense of to go “back to the 'things themselves'”(Husserl), and not the reification of human affairs as a natural material and “object” of study.

Future humanities will have to have an answer for the crisis of meaning in our time and of the worthy style of life of man on earth, respecting the characteristics of each country and each culture. Otherwise, it will be condemned to death, and become merely a tool in the service of great powers that determine the fate of the world: the support base of technical sales companies, or political-military powers, or apologist justifier of propaganda for new "crusades" and the "clash of civilizations".

Shariati was a committed intellectual who wanted to learn "human sciences" for its role in social emancipation and human salvation. After his university period, he expanded his perspective outside of the academy, to develop a "critical theory" alive in society, particularly in a religious society. His intellectual legacy had a wide impact, subject to conflicting interpretations. 

After Shariati, there arose in Iran and in the Islamic world the phenomenon of so-called "fundamentalism". Its impact differed in Iran, however, for two reasons: Iran experienced the civil development of "religious modernity", as well as the achievements of a range of trends from "traditionalist" to "fundamentalist" at governmental and community levels. As a result, Iran is now in a way "vaccinated" against the deadly scourge of extremism. And given that we are regarded as the pioneer of a (tinted color) Islamic revolution, our experience may be considered by other Muslim nations as a sort of social laboratory.

The transversal approach of Shariati on "interfaith rapprochement" manifested by such phrases as "Sunni prophetic" equal to "Shiite Alawite" against "Sunni Umayyad" and "Shiite Safavid," or the triangle of Sartre, Marx, and Bergson (or Pascal) in the West, or Buddha, Mazdak, Hallaj in the East, as equivalent of Imam Ali, etc., have ground down the regressions and ethno-religious conflicts and this underlies the successful receipt of the work of Shariati in different Muslim countries.

In analyzing the draft of Shariati’s thought, which consists of "rebirth" of national culture and religious "Reformation", an "interdisciplinary" approach is recognizable in:

• the exploration of the "continent of history" (the item Shariati had introduced into the field of Islamic theological studies) ;

• the Marx-Weber interaction between sociological infrastructural base and cultural and ideological superstructures ;

• serious attention to issues of political economy and the development of a kind of scientific Marxology ;

• the psychological approach and equilibrium established between the psychoanalysis of Freud and that of Jung, throughout Shariati’s work, especially in the writings called Kaviriyât (Desert) ;

• the recognition of a mission for art by, for example, examining recent trends in the art world, and bringing in the field of "liberation theology" in Islam and Iran;

• And generally, in the field of philosophy, the observation of the famous "linguistic turn" of the twentieth century, and the lessons of hermeneutics and phenomenology, philosophy of existence, following Kierkegaard and his posterity, in the context of continental philosophy, including the study of the history of ideas by his "comparative methodology", which our generation has learned first from Shariati.

However, the originality of Shariati lies in his slogan "return to the self", which means authentic, an invitation to awareness, self-reflection, and the deconstructed recovery of tradition and autochtonous cultural heritage, national and religious. The meaning of this return is by no means a call to ethnic or religious identitarianism, but rather the preparation of conditions enabling an equal dialogue with the Other, in this case, with the West, as a sort of mirror: Me found in the eyes of others.

Shariati examined the history of civilizations, religions, Islam, and Iran, with a look from below, so to speak. He integrated marginalized texts and reread the tragic story of the underprivileged and the comedy of the powerful. In denouncing the "tripartite ideology" (in the words of Georges Dumézil), and the dominant classes--politically, economically, and culturally--and mystification (antique and new), Shariati opened the way for a new historical understanding in "postcolonial studies", similar to the work of Fanon, Said, etc ...

To criticize and clarify Shariati’s message, we need to continue to develop the methods of human sciences with universal scientific standards.

Understanding the emancipatory trilogy of “liberty, Justice and mysticism”, in direct contrast to the dominating triangle of “exploitation (zar), oppression (zoor), and mystification (tazwir)”, according to the latest text of Shariati, requires learning widely. For example, new philosophy and political sciences in their latest developments, from reading the classics such as A. Tocqueville and B. Constant up to H. Arent and Leo Strauss; studying the thought of social democratic movements from astro-socialism and anarcho-syndicalism, libertarian socialism, to the current movement of "alternative globalization"; and finally, the knowledge of the Existenzphilosophy and the Oriental (and Islamic and Iranian) wisdoms and mystical spirituality.

Reviewing and evaluating the legacy of Dr. Shariati helps to improve its quality, to lift its ambiguities and resolve problems of this path of thought. Thus, we expect holding seminars like this to illustrate the current situation and the future of the humanities in Iran, to contribute to the theoretical and practical implications of this school of thought and Shariati’s contribution to the future of these sciences, particularly in the context of our culture or civilization.

Through fostering freedom of expression, such as the critical approach of the researchers present at this meeting, we expect to see a new flowering of ideas and a leap forward in research, and a new contribution to the future of the humanities in our countries.

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