Nationalizing Iran

Culture, Power, and the State, 1870-1940

Afshin Marashi

  • Published: 2008
  • Subject Listing: Middle East Studies; Politics
  • Bibliographic information: 200 pp., 15 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • Series: Studies in Modernity and National Identity
  • Contents

When Naser al-Din Shah, who ruled Iran from 1848 to 1896, claimed the title Shadow of God on Earth, his authority rested on premodern conceptions of sacred kingship. By 1941, when Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi came to power, his claim to authority as the Shah of Iran was infused with the language of modern nationalism. In short, between roughly 1870 and 1940, Iran's traditional monarchy was forged into a modern nation-state.

In Nationalizing Iran, Afshin Marashi explores the changes that made possible this transformation of Iran into a social abstraction in which notions of state, society, and culture converged. He follows Naser al-Din Shah on a tour of Europe in 1873 that led to his importing a new public image of monarchy-an image based on the European late imperial model-relying heavily on the use of public ceremonies, rituals, and festivals to promote loyalty to the monarch. Meanwhile, Iranian intellectuals were reimagining ethnic history to reconcile "authentic" Iranian culture with the demands of modernity. From the reform of public education to the symbolism surrounding grand public ceremonies in honor of long-dead poets, Marashi shows how the state invented and promoted key features of the common culture binding state and society. The ideological thrust of that century would become the source of dramatic contestation in the late twentieth century.

Marashi's study of the formative era of Iranian nationalism will be valuable to scholars and students of history, sociology, political science, and anthropology, as well as journalists, policy makers, and other close observers of contemporary Iran.
Afshin Marashi is assistant professor of history at California State University at Sacramento.

"Marashi's argument and theoretical approach are original and convincing and his conclusions are sound. This book promises to be a classic on the early formation of Iranian nationalism."
-Kamran Aghaie, author of Martyrs of Karbala: Shi'i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran

"Nationalizing Iran is a very interesting book for a wide readership. Especially original and insightful is its emphasis on continuities underlying what are commonly viewed as ruptures within modern Iranian history, such as the Constitutional Revolution, Reza Shah, Mossadeqh, and the Islamic Revolution of 1979."
-Sibel Bozdogan, author of Modernism and Nation-Building: Turkish Architectural Culture in the Early Republic


1. Staging the Nation: City, Ceremony, and Legitimation in Late Qajar Iran

2. Nationalizing Pre-Islamic Iran: The Return of the Archaic and the Authentication of Modernity

3. The Pedagogic State: Education and Nationalism under Reza Shah

4. Nation and Memory: Commemorations and the Construction of National Memory under Reza Shah



"[Marashi's] study is an accessible and meaningful contribution to the history of late Qajar and early Pahlavi Iran, and can be read profitably by scholars and students alike. And, like all the best academic research, it reminds us how much more there is to learn."
-American Historical Review