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Circling around the really Real in Iran

Ethnography of Muharram laments among Shi’i volunteer militants in the Middle East

Younes Saramifar

Iranian Shi’i believers claim that capturing sorrow and lamentation in their fullest sense falls beyond language and reason. They constantly refer to their inability to articulate in order to explain martyrdom and highlight a form of unsaid that explains all that appears impalpable for them. I undertake a journey among Iranian Shi’i youth to trace the unarticulated and the sense of wonder generated via religious experiences. By way of an ethnography of Muharram lamentation ceremonies, this article highlights how the unarticulated and the un said are socially and politically used in service of Shi’i militancy. I explore those uncharted terrains in the darkness of the Lacanian Real and in terms of how the Real is authenticated in order to address how realities are craft ed and religious subjectivities are enacted in the realm of militancy.

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Maria Sabaye Moghaddam

Zâr denotes a class of spirits, the illness that they cause when descending upon a person and the ritual that is necessary to pacify the spirits and secure the alleviation of the patient's symptoms. The ritual involves holding a ceremony where incense, music and movement play a role in appeasing the Zâr to provide relief for the patient. This article, based on field studies carried out in 2007-2009, provides a current account of Zâr practices in Bandar Abbâs and Qeshm Island in Iran.

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Traditional Medical Popular Culture in Boir Ahmad, Iran

Explanatory Models, Philosophies and Behaviour

Erika Friedl

Analysis of my ethnographic data on medical popular culture in tribal south-west Iran, mostly from 1965 to 1983, suggests several traditional explanatory models and philosophical tenets that guide approaches to health issues. Empirical knowledge of natural processes motivates people to observe their bodily requirements. The belief in God's autocratic power is tempered with God's purported wish that people use their abilities to take responsibility for their health, complicating the notion of 'fate'. The various models provide health management choices. Traditionally, patients and healers shared these models, acting on the same cosmological assumptions.

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Migrations West to East in the Times of the Ottoman Empire

The Example of a Gypsy/Roma Group in Modern Iran

Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov

This article presents the community of the Romanies/Gypsies called the Zargar, who live in contemporary Iran. For centuries the Zargar had not been aware of the existence of other Gypsies. Only nowadays, with the means of modern telecommunications, including the Internet, have representatives of the Zargar 'discovered' that there are other Roma in the world, and they have begun looking for their place within the international Romani community. Lacking a clear memory of their own past, the Zargar are trying to construct such a history and an extended identity, while establishing contact with their 'kin' in Europe.

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Soheila Shahshahani

This article refers to the methodology of this eld as a viable way of being in a very complex (personal, institutional, research) situation of existence at different levels over a long period of time. The author uses ‘distancing’, putting in abeyance her personal reactions in order to comprehend and make evident what would otherwise have been difficult to go through. So participant observation not only deeply familiarises the researcher with a situation and culture, it also provides a standpoint of not personally getting involved in order to continue research.

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Sachiko Hosoya

In this article, the change in attitude towards marriage and reproduction among Iranian people with a genetic illness called thalassemia has been investigated, along with an analysis of the impact brought by the national thalassemia prevention programmes, which were introduced to discourage marriage between carriers (thalassemia minor) and the birth of severe homozygous cases (thalassemia major). Marriage and reproductive choices of people with both thalassemia minor and thalassemia major were focused upon in order to prevent the birth of affected babies. Thalassemia carrier couples prefer to choose abortion of affected foetuses, rather than giving up their marriage, and some people with thalassemia major choose a person with thalassemia major as a marriage partner, though they must give up having their own child.

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The Painful Return

Prisoners of War and Society in Iraq, 1988–2007

Ronen Zeidel

This is the first study of Iraqi POWs (prisoners of war) of the Iran-Iraq War and their relations with Iraqi society when they were absent and upon their return. The most significant factor affecting those relations was the exceptionally long duration of imprisonment: 8 to 10 years on average. By using novels and memoirs written by the prisoners reflecting on their prison experience, this article will try to unravel how Iraqi POWs perceived their ordeal and how they were influenced by dominant social values. Societal attitudes are also analysed through novels and short stories by some of Iraq's leading authors, in which the returning POW is the main subject.

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Didier Gazagnadou

In this article, the author investigates, from an anthropological point of view, why many Iranian women (and even some men) resort to rhinoplasty – that is, surgery to alter the appearance of the nose – for cosmetic purposes. When did this phenomenon begin in Iran? Which social classes and ages are concerned? What is the relationship between this practice and Iranian society in general? Is it the result of foreign cultural influences? What comparisons can be made with other cultures? Born of a micro-sociological case, these interrogations address the anthropology of Iranian society, which, like many others, has been engaged for several decades in an ‘exchange process’ that today is commonly known as globalisation.

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Soraya Tremayne

This article examines the interface between modernity and traditional cultural values. It suggests that Iranian society, in spite of its Islamic theocratic regime, is on one level an open society and has shown a surprising degree of flexibility in adapting to change. Yet on another level, Iran remains a closed society with strong cultural ties that act as unifying factors controlling the boundaries of interaction between the old and the new. One of the manifestations of the deep-rooted values that determine the form and extent of the acceptance of modernity is the consideration of one’s ‘face’ in public. ‘Face’ acts as a regulating agent directing the choices people make vis-à-vis societal change. The article concludes that social interactions and decisions taken by individuals in all public aspects of their lives, regardless of class, age, ethnic origins or gender, continue to be profoundly influenced by ‘face’.

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Reports

Publications, Films and Conferences

Shahla Haeri, Sophie Accolas and Babak Rezvani

PUBLICATIONS

Nadjmabadi, Shahnaz R. (ed.) (2009), Conceptualizing Iranian Anthropology: Past and Present Perspectives (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books). viii + 278 pp. ISBN 978-1-84545-626-9.

FILMS

Kamal, Mariam Nabil (2009), Le Bruit des pas, Afghanistan, vidéo couleur, 24 minutes, Ateliers Varan, avec le soutien des Service culturel de l’Ambassade de France, du Centre culturel français, du Goethe Institut et la Direction des Relations Internationales d’Arte France, en partenariat avec Afghan films, la Faculté des Beaux Arts, Kabul University, Radio Television Afghanistan, the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society.

CONFERENCES

‘Central Eurasia: Islam, Culture and Conflict’, May 2010, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands