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Project D16

Semantic Transformation of Prefigurative Heroes in Iran Since 1925

Prof. Dr. Tim Epkenhans
Sarah Stegemann

Department of Middle-Eastern Studies

The project aims to analyse semantic change in the discourse surrounding prefigurative heroes and heroized historical personnages in official Iranian historiography of the Pahlavi state (1925–1979) and the Islamic Republic (1979–present). In modern Iran, heroic figures such as Rustam (mythology), Cyros II (pre-Islamic history) and al-Husain (Shiite tradition) represent these prefigurations that rely on different parts of the collective memory. Analysing official historiography makes it possible to reconstruct semantics that are connected to these heroic figures, in order to contextualize them within broader aspects of politics and society. Historiography as part of the wider field of the politics of history and culture are highly relevant and instrumental for the construction of an authoritative narrative on the genesis of the Iranian nation and nation state. Both the Pahlavi administration and the political elites of the Islamic Republic of Iran deployed historiography as a tool of legitimation used to form and confirm ideas of social and political order, social hierarchy and collective identity. The construction of heroes and narratives of heroization as well as gender discourse are of central relevance to official historiography. While exceptional historical players are constructed in social praxis as heroes and thus deployed as exemplary role models, heroisms provide information on hegemonic concepts of morality, social order and gender configuration as much as collective identity. Therefore, the core of this analysis is formed by strategies of heroization in the context of political legitimization and social transformation. The constitutive elements of official historiography hint at configurations of hegemonic masculinity that provide collective identity and reflect the self-perception of the male-dominated political systems of both Pahlavi and Republican Iran. In the process, ambiguities of discourse on heroized historical characters and prefigurations refer on the dialectic of social transgression and conformity.