Abdolkarim Soroush

Abdolkarim Soroush

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
Islamic Philosophy
era = 21st century Philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

name = Abdolkarim Soroush
(Persian: عبدالكريم سروش )
birth = 1945 Tehran, Iran
death =
school_tradition = Irfan, Islam, Religious intellectualism, Persian literature
main_interests = Philosophy of Religion Social and political philosophy
notable_ideas =
influences = Karl Popper, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi
influenced =

Hosein Haj Faraj Dabbagh (1945 - )(PerB|حسين حاج فرج دباغ) [ [http://www.iran-newspaper.com/1383/831117/html/horizon.htm Iran Newspaper ] ] , mostly known by his pen-name, Abdolkarim Soroush (Persian: عبدالكريم سروش ) or Abdulkarim Soroush, is an Iranian thinker, philosopher, reformer, Rumi scholar and a former professor of Tehran University. He is a well-known figure in religious intellectual movement in Iran. Professor Soroush is currently a visiting scholar at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He was also affiliated with prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. In 2005, Time Magazine named him one of the world's 100 most influential people [http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/2005/time100/scientists/100soroush.html] and in 2008 "Prospect" magazine named him the seventh most influential intellectual in the world [http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=10261] .


Abdolkarim Soroush (Hussein Haaj Faraj Ul-lah Dabbagh) was born in Tehran in 1945. Upon finishing high school, Soroush began studying Pharmacy after passing the National Entrance exams of Iran. After completing his degree, he soon left Iran for London in order to continue his studies and to become familiar with the modern world.

It was after receiving a doctorate in analytical chemistry from graduate school at London that he went to Chelsea College, for studying history and philosophy of science, spending the next five and a half years there. During these years, confrontation between the people and the Shah's regime was gradually becoming more serious, and political gatherings of Iranians in America and Europe, and Britain in particular, were on the increase. Soroush, too, was thus drawn into the field.

After the Revolution, Soroush returned to Iran and there he published his book "Knowledge and Value" (Danesh va Arzesh) the writing of which he had completed in England. He then went to Tehran's Teacher Training College where he was appointed the Director of the newly established Islamic Culture Group. While in Tehran, Soroush established studies in both history and the philosophy of science.

A year later, all universities were shut down, and a new body was formed by the name of the Cultural Revolution Institute comprising seven members, including Abdulkarim Soroush, all of whom were appointed directly by Ayatollah Khomeini. As a member of this body he caused controversy among the political establishment, as he was a driving force behind the expulsion of a significant number of academics and students from universities that he felt were not revolutionary or religious. The purpose of this institute was to bring about the re-opening of the universities and total restructuring of the syllabi.

In 1983, owing to certain differences which emerged between him and the management of the Teacher Training College, he secured a transfer to the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies where he has been serving as a research member of staff until today. He submitted his resignation from membership in the Cultural Revolution Council to Imam Khomeini and has since held no official position within the ruling system of Iran, except occasionally as an advisor to certain government bodies. His principal position has been that of a researcher in the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies.

During the 90s, Soroush gradually became more critical of the political role played by the Iranian clergy. The monthly magazine that he cofounded, Kiyan, soon became the most visible forum ever for religious intellectualism. In this magazine he published his most controversial articles on religious pluralism, hermeneutics, tolerance, clericalism etc. The magazine was clamped down in 1998 among many other magazines and newspapers by the direct order of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. About a thousand audio tapes of speeches by Soroush on various social, political, religious and literary subjects delivered all over the world are widely in circulation in Iran and elsewhere. Soon, he not only became subject to harassment and state censorship, but also lost his job and security. His public lectures at Universities in Iran are often disrupted by hardline Ansar-e-Hizbullah vigilante groups.

From the year 2000 onwards Abdulkarim Soroush has been a Visiting Professor in Harvard University teaching Rumi poetry and philosophy, Islam and Democracy, Quranic Studies and Philosophy of Islamic Law. Also a scholar in residence in Yale University, he taught Islamic Political Philosophy at Princeton University in the 2002-3 academic year. From 2003-4 he served as a visiting scholar in the Wissenschaftkolleg in Berlin. For the Spring 2008 semester, he joins Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs as a visiting scholar.

Philosophy of Abdolkarim Soroush

Soroush is primarily interested in the philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, the philosophical system of Mowlana Jalaleddin Balkhi (Rumi) and comparative philosophy. He is a world expert on Rumi and Persian Sufi poetry.

The philosophy of Abdolkarim Soroush can be summarized as follows: [ [http://www.drsoroush.com/Persian/On_DrSoroush/On_13851013_Paya.html Dr. Soroush ] ]
*Distinction between "religion" and our "understanding of religion".
*Distinction between "essential" and "accidental" aspects of religion.
*Distinction between "minimalist" and "maximalist" interpretation of Islam.
*Distinction between values and morals that are considered internal in respect to Islam and those that are external.
*Distinction between Religious "belief" and Religious "faith".
*Distinction between religion as an ideology/identity and religion of truth.

Distinction between "religion" and our "understanding of religion"

Soroush main contribution to Islamic philosophy is that he maintains that one should distinguish between religious as divinely revealed and the interpretation of religion or religious knowledge which is based on socio-historical factors.

Soroush's main thesis, entitled "The Theoretical Contraction and Expansion of Shari'a" separates religion per se from religious knowledge. The former, the essence of religion, is perceived as beyond human reach, eternal and divine. The latter, religious knowledge, is a sincere and authentic but finite, limited, and fallible form of human knowledge. [http://www.kadivar.com/Htm/English/Reviews/reform.htm]

Soroush's political theory

Soroush's political theory is in line with the modern tradition from Locke to the framers of the American constitution. It portrays human beings as weak and susceptible to temptation, even predation. As such, they need a vigilant and transparent form of government. He believes that the assumption of innate goodness of mankind, shared by radical Utopians from anarchists to Islamic fundamentalists underestimates the staying power of social evil and discounts the necessity of a government of checks and balances to compensate for the weaknesses of human nature. [http://www.kadivar.com/Htm/English/Reviews/reform.htm]

Soroush's political philosophy, as well, remains close to the heart of the liberal tradition, ever championing the basic values of reason, liberty, freedom, and democracy. They are perceived as "primary values," as independent virtues, not handmaidens of political maxims and religious dogma. Soroush entwines these basic values and beliefs in a rich tapestry of Islamic primary sources, literature, and poetry. [http://www.kadivar.com/Htm/English/Reviews/reform.htm]

Religious democracy

Soroush introduced his own definition of the term "Religious democracy" which is now a topic in contemporary Iranian philosophy and means that the values of religion play a role in the public arena in a society populated by religious people. Religious democracy falls within the framework of modern rationality and has identifiable elements. It is in this way that we have a plurality of democracies in the international community. "Religious democracy" is a subject of intense research in Iranian intellectual circles.

Democracy where coincides with certain things, it can be secular or religious. Hence, what alters the hue and color of democracy is a society’s specific characteristics and elements. Religious democracy is an example of how democratic values can exist in a different cultural elaboration than what is usually known before. [ http://www.humanrights.dk/news/conference_article/ ] But, in a secular society, some other characteristic is deemed important and focused on, and that becomes the basis for democracy.

In fact relativistic liberalism and democracy are not identical since democracy is not violated when a faith is embraced, it is violated when a particular belief is imposed or disbelief is punished.

We do not have one democracy but many democracies from ancient Greece to today. We have a plurality of democracies in the international community. What emerged was that a democracy prevailed in different eras depending on the conditions of the time. [ [http://www.drsoroush.com/English/Interviews/E-INT-20031200-1.htm AbdolKarim Soroush :: عبدالکريم سروش ] ]



Soroush's ideas have met with strong opposition from conservative elements in the Islamic Republic. Both he and his audiences were assaulted by Ansar-e Hezbollah vigilantees in the mid 1990s. A law imposing penalties on anyone associating with enemies of the Islamic republic is thought by his allies to have been at least in part provoked by some of Soroush's lectures and foreign affiliations. "The Last Great Revolution" by Robin Wright c2000, p.57]

According to foreign journalist Robin Wright:

Over the next year, he lost his three senior academic appointments, including a deanship. Other public appearances, including his Thursday lectures, were banned. He was forbidden to publish new articles. He was summoned for several long `interviews` by Iranian intelligence officials. His travel was restricted, then his passport confiscated.

Quotes by Soroush

"Has this country (Iran) gone so far so that a teacher takes his life into his own hands when attending class or an academic meeting? Does this country need the likes of Galileo and Giordano Bruno?" (appeared in an open letter from Dr Soroush to President Hashemi Rafsanjani after the latest incident of Amir Kabir University) [ [http://www.drsoroush.com/English/News_Archive/E-NWS-19960531-1.html Miserable Plight of a brilliant scholar] Muslim News - 31 May 1996]

"The first resource that is squandered in a revolution is rationality and the last thing that returns home is rationality. If it ever returns." [cite news | first= | last= | coauthors= | title=On Reason | date=2007-03-30 | publisher= | url =http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2007-03-30-soroush-en.html | work = | pages = | accessdate = 2007-04-15 | language = ]

"Cling to freedom, because among God's favorite creations, freedom is the most beautiful and delicate. Tolerate the thorn for the sake of the beauty of the flower."Fact|date=April 2008

Research interests

*Persian literature
*Philosophy of science
*Iranian philosophy
*Eastern philosophy
*Intellectual movements in Iran
*Islamic philosophy

Awards and honors

* Erasmus Prize (2004)
* Time 100 (2005) [http://www.time.com/time/2005/time100/scientists/]

elected works

* Dialectical Antagonism (in Persian), Tehran 1978
* Philosophy of History (in Persian), Tehran 1978
* What is Science, what is Philosophy (in Persian), 11th ed. Tehran 1992
* The Restless Nature of the Universe (in Persian and Turkish), reprint Tehran 1980
* Satanic Ideology (in Persian), 5th ed. Tehran 1994
* Knowledge and Value (in Persian)
* Observing the Created: Lectures in Ethics and Human Sciences (in Persian), 3rd ed. Tehran 1994
* The Theoretical Contraction and Expansion of Religion: The Theory of Evolution of Religious Knowledge (in Persian), 3rd ed. Tehran 1994
* Lectures in the Philosophy of Social Sciences: Hermeneutics in Social Sciences (in Persian), Tehran 1995
* Sagaciousness, Intellectualism and Pietism (in Persian), Tehran 1991
* The Characteristic of the Pious: A Commentary on Imam Ali's Lecture About the Pious (in Persian), 4th ed. Tehran 1996
* The Tale of the Lords of Sagacity (in Persian), 3rd ed. Tehran 1996
* Wisdom and Livelihood: A Commentary on Imam Ali's Letter to Imam Hasan (in Persian), 2nd ed. Tehran 1994
* Sturdier than Ideology (in Persian), Tehran 1994
* The Evolution and Devolution of Religious Knowledge in: Kurzman, Ch. (ed.): Liberal Islam, Oxford 1998
* Political Letters (2 volumes), 1999 (Persian).
* Reason, Freedom and Democracy in Islam, Essential writings of Adbolkarim Soroush, translated, edited with a critical introduction by M. Sadri and A. Sadri, Oxford 2000.
* Intellectualism and Religious Conviction (in Persian)
* The World we live (in Persian and Turkish)
* The Tale of Love and Servitude (in Persian)
* The definitive edition of Rumi's Mathnavi (in Persian), 1996
* Tolerance and Governance (in Persian), 1997
* Straight Paths, An Essay on religious Pluralism (in Persian), 1998
* Expansion of Prophetic Experience (in Persian), 1999

Works on Soroush

* Ashk Dahlén, "Islamic Law, Epistemology and Modernity", New York, 2003. ISBN 0415945291 / ISBN 978-0415945295.

See also

* Intellectual Movements in Iran
* Religious Intellectualism in Iran
* Iranian philosophy
* Seyyed Hossein Nasr
* Mohsen Kadivar
* Dariush Shayegan
* Daryoush Ashouri
* Ali Shariati
* Mehdi Bazargan
* Dr. Sir Muhammad Allama Iqbal
* Mostafa Malekian

External links

* [http://www.drsoroush.com/ Abdolkarim Soroush's Official Site]
* [http://www.drsoroush.com/English/News_Archive/E-NWS-20050418-Time_Magazine.html Abdolkarim Soroush; Iran's Democratic Voice - Time Magazine]
* [http://www.seraj.org Seraj - Dedicated to coverage and analysis of the ideas of Abdolkarim Soroush]


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