Contentious public religion: Two conceptions of Islam in revolutionary Iran - Ali Shariàti and Abdolkarim Soroush

Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Theorists of secularization considered modernity an irreversible process of differentiation between mutually exclusive spheres of private vs public life. In contrast, proponents of a new paradigm argue that differentiation has strengthened religion in modern society through the establishment of religious market economies. Contrary to both views, the resurgence of religious movements in the last 20 years, particularly Islamist movements, has introduced a new form of contentious public religion that calls into question the interconnectedness of modernity with the privatization of religion. This article shows how the reintroduction of religion in the public sphere contributed to a new understanding of Islam and its relation to contemporary social life. Two distinct articulations of Islam before and after the Iranian revolution of 1979 are examined, those of All Shariàti and Abdolkarim Soroush. Whereas Shariàti transformed Islam into an ideology of social change, in his ideology critique, Soroush reinstated the enigmatic core of Islam through a hermeneutic distinction between religion and the knowledge of it. The article argues that what religion is, a theological question, is intimately linked to the sociological question what religion does.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)504-523+540-541
JournalInternational Sociology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Islam
  • Modernity
  • Public religion
  • Secularization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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