The Discovery of Iran
Taghi Arani, a Radical Cosmopolitan
Ali Mirsepassi



Iranian Nationalism, Revisited

“Persia, after New Year’s Day, will not be Persia anymore. . . .”

New York Times, 19351

Unnaming the Nation

On New Year’s Day, 1935, the Associated Press reported that a national reckoning was looming over Iran. By diplomatic decree and in one fell swoop, “Persia” would be no more, and “Iran” would come into international existence. What triggered the fall of a nation, if only in name, with so long and illustrious a history? Why would people who prided themselves of their ancient patrimony choose to reject their country’s name? Any researcher scouring contemporary Iranian newspapers for a “complete local account” of the name change will only meet with disappointment. The absence of any mention, let alone discussion, of the “end of Persia” in contemporary Iranian discourse is striking. Perhaps this is because for Iranians, Iran had never been Persia. It had been Iran for as long they could remember.2

The Iranian foreign minister had summarily demanded on December 4, 1934, that foreign governments desist in three months’ time from referring to the country as Persia. Come March 1935, they should, the decree stipulated, call it by its “real” name, Iran.3 The Iranian government sought to compel European countries in particular, as standard-bearers of the international order, to refrain from using the name “Persia.” What inspired the Iranian state’s commitment to enforcing a name change? How has this event been interpreted by historians and scholars of modern Iran? The issue is critical, considering that the small window of time between the 1935 name change and the dawn of World War II, which coincided with the second period of Reza Shah’s rule (1934–41), directly shaped the future of Iran as a modern nation-state and the development of Iranian nationalism.

The Associated Press speculated that the name change was motivated by the Iranian state’s desire to align the nation with the so-called Aryan race.4 This “racial supremacy” thesis, used to explain everything from the name change to Iran’s supposedly troubled relationship with Arabs and Islam, soon supplanted all other explanations to reach the status of common wisdom as Reza Shah’s putative sympathy for Germany became well known. European governments followed suit and attributed the same motive to the name change, an about-face they regarded with evident dismay. “Iran,” they suspected, was a racialized epithet. The British government at first found the request “silly” and considered resisting it.5 Then, as now, the racial-supremacist thesis required little more than a glance at contemporary events and alliances emerging across Europe and in Germany to seem all too true. That some Iranian statesmen and intellectuals openly embraced German racialist ideas and willfully implicated Iran in a fictive struggle over the Aryan nation added to the credibility of the thesis. What actual evidence exists, however, for the speculated motives impugning the name change as racialist? The rationale for the name change is more intricate than the assumed desire of projecting Iran’s “Aryan” identity internationally. A fresh look at this policy’s gestation and a more nuanced perspective on Iran-Germany relations during the 1930s, then, are required to appreciate the complexity and contingency of its motivations.

The “un-naming” of Iran was externally directed; the change in nomenclature affected foreign and, more specifically, European countries. “Iran” already circulated domestically as the nation’s name and was the historic term that neighboring Islamicate countries had for centuries used to refer to the country. Why would a government demand that foreign nations identify the country in racialized terms, while disregarding its current usage among its people? How do we explain this? The change occurred during a critical period in the formation of Iranian nationalism, so the historiographic silence surrounding the name change is curious indeed.

There are two accounts as to who first broached the idea of introducing a formal change in nomenclature. Most scholars have identified the culprit using the directive Iran’s foreign minister issued to Iranian embassies abroad. The directive states that the Iranian ambassador to Germany, Abdolqasem Najm,6 an alleged Nazi sympathizer, had perhaps persuaded Reza Shah of the need for a name change.7 In Iran, however, another understanding prevailed. It was believed that Saeed Nafisi, a renowned scholar on friendly terms with Reza Shah’s advisors, had led a group of Iranian luminaries, including former Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Foroughi and former Foreign Minister Seyed Hasan Taqizadeh, in convincing the Shah that the name change was necessary to improve the nation’s standing in the world. And there is indeed evidence of Reza Shah’s respect for Nafisi as a scholar: On the occasion of the 1934 jubilee celebrating the establishment of the Pahlavi monarchy, he commissioned Nafisi to write the history of his rule.8 Nafisi’s two-volume survey, The Social History of Iran, continues to be considered a pioneering work of scholarship.9

Perhaps the sole document explaining the government’s rationale for the name change is a retrospective article by Nafisi, which was published in a leading Iranian daily, Ettelaʿat, on December 10, 1934, three days after Iranian officials had apprised foreign governments of the name change. Nafisi’s argument for foreign government’s use of “Iran” in place of “Persia” rested on the conviction that the former name better captured the multiethnic makeup of a nation in which Persia (Pars) was only one region. According to Nafisi, the name “Persia” could never encompass the diversity of cultures constitutive of the historical reality of Iran, and instead gave the impression of a multiethnic nation ruled by one ethnic group. Nafisi’s argument, however, was convoluted. Alongside his insistence on Iran’s ethnic plurality, he argued that these differences were in fact overridden and subsumed by a unifying identity: Iranians, he reasoned, collectively constituted a branch of the nezhad-e sefid (white race) and were therefore Aryan. The name “Iran” promised the possibility not only of capturing Iran’s ethnic mixture without compromising it, but of evoking the grandeur of its ancient past.10 Nafisi expressed gratitude to European Orientalists for their wisdom in electing to use the term “Iran” to describe the region encompassing contemporary Iran, Afghanistan, and beyond.1

Rather than determine whether the attempt to annul “Persia” as the name for Iran does or does not confirm the existence of Iranian Aryanism, this book views the name change as, above all, institutionalizing a new autocratic mode of imagining modern Iran. The years 1934 and 1935 inaugurated a novel form of top-down Iranian nationalism which aimed to mold the nation in the image of the king. Despite these discontinuities, Nafisi’s text still forwards the civic aspirations of the constitutionalist tradition, mechanisms for realizing which were outlined in the Iranian Constitution of 1906. Even the new autocratic nationalism of Reza Shah’s rule retained residual elements of civic nationalism. In this light, Nafisi’s clouded argument captures a new bipolar reality of civic activism moderated by autocratic force. His is not an argument motived purely by racial animus. Nafisi himself, perhaps, failed to realize the improbability of imagining Iran in a way similar to the new Republic of Turkey. Instead, he desired an ethnically “inclusive” Iran at the same time that he attempted to situate it within the pantheon of Aryanism.

Taghi Arani’s Civic Nationalism

The present study critically reexamines the intellectual history of Iranian nationalism as it developed during the often overlooked interwar period (1919–35). It does so by situating at its center the life and thought of Taghi Arani, who married the analytical insights of Marxist materialism to a cosmopolitan ethics of progress through international scientific exchange. Arani’s radical secularism combined the principles of civic nationalism with a humanist imaginary for the future of the Iranian nation. He relentlessly preached the values of modern science and of class and gender equality; but in anticolonial fashion he was skeptical of cultural capitulation to the West, unlike many of his modernist counterparts. He sought to reconcile Iran to its own history before and after the Islamic conquests, a history of syncretic exchange rejected by Persian purists as the Arabization of Iran and romanticized by their traditionalist counterparts as the apex of Iranian civilization, while reconciling its present to the modern West. Arani’s vision for Iran transcended the cultural nationalism of the secularists of his time and the Westoxification discourse dominating Iran during the second half of the twentieth century.

In the process of exploring Arani’s life and writings, we uncover the fertile intellectual spaces that flourished during the interwar years, which were far from being a period of decentralization and decay. In those years, Iranian intellectuals debated distinctive ways of imagining modern Iran and produced innovative political and intellectual tracts, literary and artistic productions, and cultural spaces as they labored to “discover” a new Iran. Political and civic organizations formed in these spaces to discuss recent scientific achievements, educational reform, and the meaning of the human condition, all in an attempt to amalgamate these insights into a new national imaginary.

Arani’s radical secularism bore the imprint of the spaces he traversed and the turbulence around him. He lived with his Azeri family in Tabriz until its occupation by Russian forces propelled them to relocate to Tehran. From there, Arani traveled in 1922 to Berlin to study for his doctorate in chemistry. It was in Weimar Berlin, a cultural and intellectual hub, that Arani’s intellectual and political journey started. He was taken in by an illustrious group of Iranian nationalists who had made Berlin their home during the interwar period. Under their tutelage and at the young age of twenty-one, Arani penned for Berlin’s leading Persian journals, Iranshahr and Farangestan, fiery defenses of Iranian nationalism and denunciations of the neo-Ottoman contention that Iran was too ethnically fragmented to constitute a viable nation. Before long he had insinuated himself in a Berlin-based circle of radical Iranians, yet he continued to draw inspiration from the sciences as a doctoral student in the chemistry department of Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin. Soon after arriving in Berlin, however, Arani distanced himself from his earlier nationalist posture and began to embrace the tenets of Marxism and a broad social-scientific outlook. His exposure to those ideas furnished him with the analytical tools needed to understand modernity dialectically. It was at this point that Arani voiced a prescient critique of the antirationalist risks inherent in radical nationalists’ and traditionalists’ embrace of “mystical” thinking.

It is against the rising tide of authoritarian nationalism that this book presents Taghi Arani’s writings and his vision of a cosmopolitan Iran. Rather than kowtowing to Stalinism or the fashionable quasisocialism of the statist model, Arani reinterpreted the democratic socialist tradition according to the needs and material reality of his country, in a fashion reminiscent of contemporary figures like Jawaharlal Nehru. Arani’s idea of “civic nationalism” and his cosmopolitan vision for Iran decentered Soviet Marxism as the sole alternative available to Third World reformers. Whether in Iran or during his six years in Berlin, his radicalism was tempered by his holistic care for the nation. Invested as much in questions of progress and development as in culture and language, his leftist tendencies and interest in Marxism were formed within cultural and national dimensions.

Arani’s confrontation with revivalists and antimodernists is also valuable for the window it offers onto Iran’s intellectual scene in the 1930s. The decade was marked by the rise of competing secular and religious antimodernisms, both of which Arani publicly contested in the pages of Donya, the magazine he and a few associates pulled together to publish upon his return to Tehran in the 1930s. Arani’s writings during this period focalized three ideas: one, the necessity of educating Iranians in the sciences and the critical role of national education in general; two, the Persian language as the cornerstone around which a modern and secular Iranian identity ought to coalesce; and three, a critique of antimodern currents emanating from Europe, which secular and religious nativists in Iran adopted to abet their assault on the possibility of progressive social and cultural change in Iran.12

Arani’s mature writings also discussed Iran’s interlocking historical and cultural relationship with the Islamic and Arab worlds as well as with modern Europe. The pragmatism of his social-scientific thinking led him to acknowledge as observable fact that Europe had outstripped the world in wealth and technological advancement, a reality that afforded its citizens on balance a higher living standard. Recognizing the correlation between material wealth, scientific progress, and quality of life, however, did not necessitate for Arani the capitulation of Iran, or any other developing country, to the West. While he stressed the necessity of following a European model of progress, his evolutionary (as opposed to teleological) understanding of history rendered absurd the notion that Western capitalist society epitomized the “final stage” of human civilization—a point that corrects our contemporary tendency to equate secularism or social-scientific thinking with concessions to Western superiority.

With the wheels of modernization already in motion, Arani encouraged Iranians, as the scholar Khosrow Shakeri put it, “‘to participate in developing a transnational modernity’ rather than resist it.” 13 But what did modernity mean to Arani? Since for him history proceeded through a dialectical sequence of eventuation, negation, and synthesis, modernity and modernization did not demand a violent and permanent rupture with the traditional past. Modernity, instead, would negate some elements of tradition and remold others into a new, modern national culture. Antimodernist intellectuals did not share Arani’s conclusions, however. In the current study, we encounter, vis-à-vis Arani’s responses to their challenges, traditionalist detractors who drew on Islamic and European thought to vindicate their opposition to modernity.

This study further argues that the creation of a modern and centralized Iranian nation-state should not be attributed entirely to Reza Shah. Intellectuals and politicians, some critical of Reza Shah, played early and decisive roles in conceptualizing the basis for a unified Iranian nation. Arani’s sociological analysis of Iran’s class structure, as well as his attempt to historicize ideas by considering foremost the social-material context in which they originated, opened up a distinct understanding of the role of Iranian intellectuals in initiating national social reform. Arani reasoned that because Iran, a predominantly agricultural nation, lacked a large working class, the urban educated class (or intellectuals) would have to instigate social change. They would set in motion the realization of the nation’s full revolutionary potential by educating its disinherited.

Arani’s concern with education, mass democratic participation, and what this work refers to as “the care of the nation” prompted him to explicate carefully his position on another specific debate concerning intellectuals: language reform. In his 1935 essay “Changing the Persian Language” (Taghyir-e Zaban-e Farsi), Arani forcefully rebuked the revivalists or linguistic purists. Concerned with the relationship between the material dynamics of modernization and how they shape cultural transformation, Arani recognized that the Persian language was not only central to but common across the Iranian social imaginary, and for this reason he offered an inclusive basis for national identity: a vision at once modern, cosmopolitan, and progressive. For Arani, indeed, the Persian language was a “cultural experience:”14 a space he could use to discuss Iran’s historical relations with Arabs and Islam, while also envisioning a future Iran reconcilable to modernity and the West. At the same time, Arani lucidly argued for the urgency of maintaining Iran’s cultural specificities. His notion of cosmopolitanism, or of Iran as a transnational idea, was entangled in a complex understanding of the social function and political potential for unification latent in language.

Arani’s nationalism is therefore distinct. Although he dissociated himself from the cultural chauvinism of authoritarian and dogmatic nationalisms, he continued to sympathize with one mode of nationalist commitment—what he termed “materialist nationalism.” Materialist nationalism is rooted in love for the most tangible aspects of a nation: its land, food, people, and the best of its cultural experiences. This nationalism, Arani argued, rooted as it was in reality, was amenable to a cosmopolitan ethics. This is what is meant by commitment to the care of the nation. The hostility of chauvinistic nationalism, to other cultures, rendered it unable to engage or exchange with potentially beneficial foreign insights and technologies.

Arani’s later writings offer a compelling critique of the dominant nationalism of his time. His critique is at once anthropological, pragmatic, and political. Any attempt to “purify” the Persian language, he argued, would be ineffectual, since the artificially purified language would have no connection to people’s daily concerns and no bearing on their usage of it. His conviction was rooted in a pragmatic recognition of the impossibility of avoiding the use of Arabic words that had thoroughly insinuated themselves into everyday Persian, or of replacing these words with “purely” Persian ones. Arani, however, also opposed the revivalists on overtly political grounds: “The radicalized Iranian narrative, with its conviction of ethnic superiority, strongly resembled European antimodernism and even fascism.”15 Both revivalists and fascists, he argued, sought to deny history and replace it with an invented reality. Rather than deny Persian its history by replacing its Arabic-laced literary artifacts with the Persian of millennia ago, Arani argued that Iranians ought to appreciate the historicity of Persian syncretism. Within this recognition, borrowing European or Arabic words was synonymous no longer with contamination, but with the currents of history.

There is a broad homology between Arani’s arguments against the Persian purists and his critique of the antimodernists. Just as the antimodernists rejected scientific rationalism as an alien import inferior to intuitive knowledge or ʾelm huzuri, the revivalists rejected words of European or Arabic origin as corrosive to Persian’s intrinsic perfection. Arani challenged both modes of thinking by rejecting the division they erected between self and other, or between native and foreign, to demonstrate first that neither language, culture, nor religion existed in stasis but developed in relation to the material relations—the modes of production, divisions of labor, and class structure—prevalent in any given society; and, second, that one could not revert to a reified past, since that past was not only fictitious but an outlet for the despair the dominant classes felt when confronted by modernity.

Arani did not limit his critiques to his Iranian peers; he took issue with European antimodernists as well. He identified the French philosopher Henri Bergson’s critique of abstract rationality as expressive of a general “modern predicament of despair.” Arani claimed that middle-class mystics like Bergson, distraught over the turbulence of the modern world, committed the same follies as the uneducated, and escaped into the vapor of ʿerfan, or mystical knowledge, to avoid confronting the growing pains of a more democratic society. In such a new society, both the elites of old and the provincial peasants of Iran would be shorn of their customs and privileges. While Arani linked mysticism to the existential despair of a class, he did not write about the emergence of a classless society or even the end of capitalism. He focused on a sociological analysis of society, since his principal concern was everyday human empowerment through democratic institution building.

While this introduction introduces Arani as a thinker whose nationalism sought to uplift Iran through international collaboration, not isolation, it should be emphasized that many of his interwar contemporaries saw no need to balance the needs of their nation against those of the world, or to share the sensitivity Nehru attributed to Gandhi, and which we might extend to Arani:

Gandhi was an intense nationalist; he was also, at the same time, a man who felt he had a message not only for India but for the world, and he ardently desired world peace. His nationalism, therefore, had a certain world outlook and was entirely free from any aggressive intent. . . . He had said: “My idea of nationalism is that my country may become free, that if need be the whole of the country may die, so that the human race may live. There is no room for race hatred here.” . . . And again: “I do want to think in terms of the whole world. My patriotism includes the good of mankind in general. Therefore, my service of India includes the service of humankind.”16

Neither Indian nor Iranian intellectuals approached the outside world uniformly; powerful currents within each country located cultural authenticity in ethno-religious purity, and political stability in military rule. Some Iranian intellectuals, however, did have an open view based on a selective embrace of transnational currents. The ideational landscape of Iran, in this way, bore a striking similarity to that of India. Under the pressure of colonial domination, Indian leaders imagined an independent India free from foreign oppression, but the contents of their nationalisms covered a wide political spectrum. As in Iran, we see two fundamentally different conceptions of the modern nation. One envisioned the nation as a purified entity to be rid of alien contaminants and guarded from external corrosion, while the other saw benefits to be gained from an integrative engagement with transnational ideas and practices. These are two distinct visions of “caring for the nation” that nonetheless understand nationalism and cosmopolitanism as ethical questions. For interwar intellectuals, then, the nation was not merely a territorially constricted project, but a wider human concern.

The Idea of Modern Iran

The history of Iranian nationalism, state building, and modernity has been analyzed extensively by scholars of diverse methodological persuasions. Their investigations have largely centered on the discursive development of nationalism, or on the institution-building and state-making processes that structured articulations of Iranian modernity. Recent scholarship reveals a growing interest in the “idea of Iran,”17 or the processes of national identity formation. In these accounts, Iran is a globally produced national imaginary. Yet these studies often overlook the interwar period, which this study focalizes as crucial to the discursive formation of the modern Iranian nation.18

Iranian thinkers of the late nineteenth century encountered an impasse. Older national imaginaries, inspired by the leitmotifs of Persian kingship or Iranian Islam, were fading. Simultaneous with this was the ascendancy of European power, bolstered by political liberalism and by scientific and technological development. At this conjuncture, mashruteh (constitutional) intellectuals identified the “traditional” or “nonmodern” elements of Iranian political culture in order to reform them. Advocating a new Iran, their modernity was a vaguely conceived political system defined as hokumat-e qanun (rule of law). This transformation in Iranian political thinking, which focalized the law’s unifying and modernizing potential, was the crowning achievement of the Constitutional Revolution (1905–11). Intellectuals limited their discussions of Iran to the supposedly objective economic and technological factors causing its political and cultural malaise—leaving those subjective factors that influenced how Iranians perceived the nation unexplored, in favor of uncritically embracing a European model of development.

With the interwar period, the idea of Iran became a serious point of discussion and debate. Although a “nationalist” project, the work of imagining the nation anew was in many instances an outward-looking endeavor. The possibility of a progressive nationalism is best articulated in Arani’s later works. His writings from the 1930s, which explicitly renounce his earlier “ethnic nationalist” stance, form this book’s point of departure. He conceived a cosmopolitan Iran enriched by its embrace of civic virtues and modern modes of thought.

Richard Wolin’s distinction between Kantian “perpetual peace” and Herder’s “cultural belonging” is helpful in clarifying Arani’s cosmopolitan nationalism.19 Wolin argues that, for Kant, the idea of cosmopolitanism “envisioned the extension of republican norms to international relations”:

For Kant, following Rousseau, republicanism solved the problem of modern political freedom, insofar as it was the only form of political rule that facilitated genuine individual and collective self-determination. The ancient regime, as a society of orders or estates, violated the precept of equal citizenship. Its political institutions were anything but representative or democratic. Instead, the substance of political decision-making was left to the whim of the monarch or prince and his or her cabinet, with the rest of the populace reduced to the status of “subjects.” The people were, for the most part, merely passive objects of the sovereign’s will. 20

Wolin further explains: “In opposition to Kant and his fellow philosophers, in Another Philosophy of History (1774), Johann Gottfried Herder devised a competing model of cosmopolitanism, one that was predicated on ‘cultural belonging’ rather than formal civic criteria or ‘right.’21 These two models parallel the divergent roads Iranians faced in the late nineteenth century. Iranian constitutionalists, we might say, took the Kantian road, advocating an equitable reordering of power relationships through a social contract that would bind citizens to the state and vice versa. They affirmed a civic nationalist reconstructive principle. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, following decades of dictatorship and a foreign-orchestrated coup d’état ousting the nationalizing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq from office, a new politics evolved that conceived of the state not as the guarantor of political freedom but as a “moral and cultural” agent tasked with realizing a “good society.” This culturalist conception of the state affirmed ethnic nationalism, and deployed Islam as a unifying construct. These divergent visions of Iranian modernity emerged from a single tradition of anticolonial struggle. Attempts to limit and reform state power for the sake of empowering individual citizens clashed with the project of building a modern society based on the “purified” restoration of local tradition.

A normative order protected by politico-legal institutions is the only alternative to “the traditional, anti-normative Realpolitik approach,” in which ideologically masked abuses of power are left unrestrained. As Wolin argues, this principle will remain an empty ideal unless integrated at an international level, or with “democratic participation on a global or world scale.” Wolin’s cosmopolitan insight breaks with the Eurocentric parochialism of the radical democratic tradition of the 1789 revolution: “Historically, the republican tradition has viewed the prerogatives of democratic self-rule as rooted in and bounded by place, today, conversely, self-government ‘requires a politics that plays itself out in a multiplicity of settings, from neighborhoods to nations to the world as a whole [and] requires citizens who can think and act as multiply-situated selves.’22

Should we accept Wolin’s argument, its implications would commit us to pursuing a democratic revolution capable of overcoming the inequalities issued by capitalism and reinforced by the institutional adjuncts of core capitalist countries: “The most urgent imperative concerns the persistent and ever-widening gulf between the prosperous nations and their impoverished counterparts in the developing world.”23 This position is at once radical and abundantly evidenced by daily growing disparities. A history of secular socialist responses to these questions is more urgent than ever. An academic preoccupation with the “cultural fragment” has caused us to dismiss prematurely the rooted social-democratic traditions of non-Western countries as cases of ideological contamination. The process of excavating secular socialist thought in Iran (and elsewhere) is, then, a project not just of recuperating the past, but of addressing questions still pertinent to equitable development.


1. Associated Press, in the New York Times, January 1, 1935.

2. However, 1934–35 may be remembered as the beginning of the postautocracy.

3. Associated Press, January 1, 1935.

4. Associated Press, January 1, 1935.

5. “The Foreign Office thought the matter was rather silly and noted: ‘It would surely be flattering the Persians unduly to intimate that H.M.G. have given a moment’s thought to their real or imaginary titles. . . . If the phrase “the King of Kingly Persian Government” is nonsense, so much the better’ (FO 371/17890 [ details/r/C2775555]). The Eastern Department agreed that the only sensible thing to do was to accept the Persian request. That seemed to be it.” persia-iran-via-inglistan/.

6. Abolqasem Najm was responsible for organizing a centennial celebration in Berlin for Iran’s national poet, Ferdowsi, in 1934. Najm would go on to become foreign minister, and to serve in several other senior positions in the Pahlavi state. There is no clear evidence for his sympathy for Nazi racial ideology, however.

7. Directive to Iranian Consulates and Embassies Abroad, Foreign Office document no. 41749, 3/10/1313 [1935], Tehran: National Archives of Iran (Sazman-e Asnad-e Melli-ye Iran) (NAI), film 22–240, 21/6/214, archive no. 297036473.

8. Saeed Nafisi, Tarikh-e Shahryari-ye Shahanshah Reza Shah Pahlavi (The History of Reza Shah Pahlavi Monarchy) (Tehran: Center for Celebration of the Foundation of Iran’s Monarchy, 1966).

9. Saeed Nafisi, “Az in Pas Hameh Ma ra beh Nam-e Iran Mishenasand” (From Now On Our Country Will Be known as Iran). Ettelaʿat, December 10, 1934.

10. Nafisi, “Az in Pas Hameh Ma ra be Nam-eh Iran Mishenasand.”

11. Nafisi, “Az in Pas Hameh Ma ra be Nam-eh Iran Mishenasand.”

12. Arani published a series of essays in the early issues of Donya in which he critiqued ʿerfan, or Persian mysticism, and challenged Henri Bergson’s philosophy as the latest incarnation of antirationalism, charging it with being both ethically and politically reactionary.

13. Ali Ansari, The Politics of Nationalism in Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 299.

14. As opposed to Persian signifying a racial or ethnic identity.

15. Taghi Arani, “Taghyir-e Zaban-e Farsi” (Changing the Persian Language), Donya, no. 10–12, (June 1935): 23.

16. Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India (Calcutta: Signet Press, 1946), 420.

17. The “idea of Iran” is a reference to how the nation is remembered, currently valued, and imagined to be in the future. As such, it is a space for continued contestations about what the nation has been, is, and should be.

18. The notion of “social imaginary” was elaborated in key works by Cornelius Castoriadis, notably The Imaginary Institution of Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 1987), and in Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). I am particularly interested in Mohammed Arkoun’s argument on “national imagination”: “Any given society in any given time is produced by the continuously combined, interacting activity of reason and imagination. However, the history of the past is usually presented as a rational or, at least, a rationalized process, which excludes the participation of imagination which is the privilege of poets, artists and prophets; it creates images, parables, symbols to an aesthetic dimension to the realities of human existence, or to show a transcendent truth beyond the ordinary explanations of reason.” Mohammed Arkoun, “Islamic Culture, Modernity, Architecture,” in Architectural Education in the Islamic World, ed. Ahmet Evin (Singapore: Concept Media, 1986), 20.

19. Richard Wolin, “The Idea of Cosmopolitanism: From Kant to the Iraq War and Beyond,” Ethics & Global Politics 3, no. 2 (2010): 143–53.

20. Wolin, “Idea of Cosmopolitanism,” 144.

21. Wolin, “Idea of Cosmopolitanism,” 147.

22. Wolin, “Idea of Cosmopolitanism,” 149.

23. Wolin, “Idea of Cosmopolitanism,” 152.