(Persian: عبدالكريم سروش)
|Full name||Abdolkarim Soroush
(Persian: عبدالكريم سروش)
|Era||21st century Philosophy|
|School||Irfan, Islam, Religious intellectualism, Persian literature|
|Main interests||Philosophy of Religion
Social and political philosophy
Abdolkarim Soroush (عبدالكريم سروش), born Hosein Haj Faraj Dabbagh (1945-; Persian: حسين حاج فرج دباغ), is an Iranian thinker, reformer, Rumi scholar and a former professor at the University of Tehran. He is a well-known figure in religious intellectual movement in Iran. Professor Soroush is currently a visiting scholar at George Washington University in Washington D.C. He was also affiliated with other prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.
Abdolkarim Soroush 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 Masters degree in Analytical Chemistry from University of 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. In the following three-year period of the shut down of the Iranian Universities also known as Iranian Cultural Revolution (1980-1983) a total restructuring of the syllabi based on the idea of Islamization of Universities took place. Soroush played an active role in the decisions made by this committee which particularly involved expulsion of a significant number of academics and students from universities that were felt anti-revolutionary or non-religious. Among direct and indirect consequences of the Institute's activities were arrest, imprisonment and execution of many Iranian scholars, force exile of University Professors and "a major blow to Iran's cultural and intellectual life and achievement", continued today.
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.
he 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:
Soroush's 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.
Faith connot be compulsory. As he told one interviewer, "True believers must embrace their faith of their own free will - not because it was imposed, or inherited, or part of the dominant local culture. To become a believer under pressure or coercion isn't true belief.`" This also means that the believer "must ... remain free to leave his faith."
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.
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.
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. 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.
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. 
According to the 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.