Autobiographical Writings in Iranian Shi'ite Seminaries

The generally scant attention paid to autobiographical writings in Iranian literary tradition extends to Iran’s religious seminaries. In fact, a review of the factors that have inhibited Iran’s Shi’ite leaders from engaging in autobiographical writing may shed some light on the reasons for the near absence of this genre in Persian literature. This article elaborates on two main inhibiting factors in Iran’s Shi’ite seminaries. The first concerns the religious perception of man and his relationship to God. Writing an autobiography, it is assumed, affects one’s relationships with others. In Islamic thought the special relationship between God and man may also affect an individual’s relationship with others. The author suggests that Islamic tradition does not condone writings and reports that dwell on one’s personal life or mundane and worldly events. Such a realm belongs solely to God. Indeed, autobiographical writing seriously disturbs the assumed traditional relationship between man and his creator.

The second factor is related to Shi’ite seminarians’ perception of the act of writing itself. The author claims that in Iran’s Islamic tradition logic dictates that written word emanate from oral culture and be based not only on the sacred text but, more importantly, on the Islamic interpretation of the language. In other words, the Shi’ite linguistic methodology should supercede all manners of writing. Thus, the Shi’ite seminarians have generally lacked linguistic tools to create the forms and meanings appropriate for autobiographical writing.

A number of other factors, according to the author, have also contributed to the reluctance of Iranian religious leaders to engage in autobiographical writing. Among these factors one should include the prevailing economic and financial underpinnings of the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy, the relationship between this hierarchy and other centers of social and political power and the imperatives of the relationship between the clerics and their followers.

Mohammad Mehdi Khalaji
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