The Discourse of Cultural Authenticity in Iran

The notion of ‘authentic culture’ [farhang-e bumi] is generally considered to have been associated with the rhetoric of revolution which emerged increasingly in 1978-79. Claims of ‘cultural revival’ and ‘regaining the past’ that were propagated at this time have been viewed by some historians as a reaction to the trend of secularization that had characterized much of what had been before. And yet, looking through the intellectual journals of the 1970s, it seems that if there was one major preoccupation for both secular intellectuals as well as the state, it was that of defining an ‘authentic culture.’ In other words, both the intellectual critics of the government and the government itself were equally engaged in defining the characteristics of an Eastern as opposed to a Western culture. This article will attempt to examine this discourse that can perhaps be best described as one of ‘cultural authenticity’, and which gained prevalence in Iran of the 1970s.

As will be discussed in this article, if this discourse became pervasive in intellectual circles, it was because two factors, which had been instrumental in its initial formulation, came together at this time. In the first place, the restrictions imposed by the regime in the way of political activity and freedom of expression in the mid-1960s, had meant that the intellectuals in search of challenging authority had to look for more indirect avenues of expressing their opposition to the regime. Secondly, the triumph of third world movements in defying Western powers served as an inspiration and provided the background for much of their writing in this period.

This paper will, therefore, discuss the discourse of ‘cultural authenticity’ in the context of third worldism, as well as the counter-culture prevalent in the West. It will also examine how this discourse gained the foreground, and consider the shape that it took in the 1970s, especially in the light of the state taking on this same talk of authenticity by implementing a cultural policy that emphasized the promotion of past traditions. For this purpose, among the sources, Iranian journals and periodicals of the period, such as Negin, Ferdawsi, Farhang va Zendegi, and Tamasha, have been extensively consulted.

Negin Nabavi
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