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Sovereignty without nationalism,Islam without God A critical study of the works of Jalal Al-e Ahmad Open Access


Other title
sovereignty, nationalism, islam,God, jalal al-ahmad
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Supervisor and department
Kellogg, Katherine (political science)
Examining committee member and department
wassermann, Richard (sociology, U of A)
Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
Mannani, Manijeh (English)
Simmons, Tony (Sociology, Athabasca university)
Sheibani, Khatereh (literature, York University)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969) is widely perceived, particularly in Iran, as the leading social critic in Iran’s post-Mosaddeq, pre Khomayni era (1953-1978) and also as an inspirational figure for Iran’s 1978-1979 revolution. His concept of “occidentosis” (Gharbzadeghi in Persian), or “Westernization,” as the main or even the only cause of Iran’s political, economic, and social problems, seemed to many Iranians to accurately diagnose their country’s ills. More importantly, his “cure” for the “disease” of occidentosis was his ringing call for Iranians to return to their authentic (Perso-Islamic) “self” and to use a rejuvenated Islam as a defense against Western imperialism. This call galvanized many Iranians, particularly among the Leftist intellectuals and Muslim clerics, and made Al-e Ahmad a revered figure following Iran’s successful revolution. This thesis argues that a close reading of a selection of Al-e Ahmad’s fiction, Occidentosis (1961), and autobiographical writing does not support the popular perception of him. The thesis’s title - - “Sovereignty without Nationalism, Islam without God” - - refers to the double paradox at the heart of his writing and thought: he called for Iran’s sovereignty in the face of Western imperialism, but felt no sense of community with his fellow Iranians, and he called for a “return to Islam,” but has no personal faith in either this or any other religion. In this thesis, some of the principles of the New Critics’ close reading and of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism are used to analyze Al-e Ahmad’s texts and uncover their many internal contradictions. The analysis of five of his short stories and his two best-known novels, The School Principle (1958) and By the Pen (1961), reveals that he was relentlessly critical of Iranian society, felt no sense of empathy for or affinity with Iran’s oppressed classes, and believed that revolutions merely replace one form of tyranny with another. The analysis of Occidentosis, Al-e Ahmad’s most famous and most important work, reveals that his argument against the ‘West’ is riddled by inconsistencies, contradictions, and historical inaccuracies. Following this analysis, a comparison of the view of the intellectual in Occidentosis and that in Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1969) is used to expose Al-e Ahmad’s limitations as a political thinker and cultural critic. Finally, the concluding chapters on two of Al-e Ahmad’s autobiographical works, Lost in the Crowd (1964) and A Stone on a Grave(2008), show that, contrary to the popular belief that Al-e Ahmad “rediscovered Islam” during the last years of his life, he actually rejected Islam and Perso-Islamic traditions and embraced and celebrated his own nihilism.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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