Islam and Nationalism in Iran: From Confrontation to Interaction

Document Type : Original Research Article


Associate professor, Department of West Asian and North Africa, Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran


Religion, nationality, and nationalism are perennial issues in human societies, with positive and negative outcomes. The ancient roots of religion and nationality in Iran, one of the world’s oldest countries, facilitated the introduction of nationalist ideas in the 19th century. Today, the intertwining of religion, nationality, and nationalism in Iran has transformed it into a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. This article aims to elucidate the nature of Iranian nationalism and its relationship with religion in contemporary Iran, emphasizing the current context and reviewing its historical trajectory. The primary objective is to explain the components and relationship between religion and nationalism in modern Iran. A theoretical discussion on “religion” and “nationalism” is presented, followed by exploring their concepts, elements, and components. Subsequently, the relationship between religion and nationalism in today’s Iran is examined across a spectrum structured into three main currents and nine sub-currents, ranging from the most interactive to the most confrontational. The main currents include the confrontation of Islam with nationalism, the interaction between Islam and nationalism, and the confrontation of nationalism with Islam. The article further delineates the different periods and phases of the relationship between religion and nationalism in the political and social arenas of Iranian society over the last century, which has been explained through five periods and six quasi-models. A key finding discussed towards the end is that although Iranian nationalism emerged under the influence of global nationalism, it significantly differs from Western and Arab examples in its causes, nature, effects, and outcomes, making it a unique phenomenon.


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