The Process of Bureaucratization of Religion in Iran and its Consequences

Focusing on post-revolutionary Iran, where a fundamentalist Islamic state swept across a relatively secular society in 1979, the author has surveyed the gradual change of organization and management of independent Shi'ite institutions and rituals into a fully managed state religion through its total bureaucratization. Utilizing the Weberian theory of bureaucracy, the author argues that state management of the religious practices and institutions has resulted in the formation of new patterns and sources of legitimization, rationalization, hierarchy, ritualism, and seminary practices.

Enumerating the vast array of new state-sponsored organizations in charge of religious life of the country, the author examines new forms of resistance emanating from the traditional culture and the mores of free worship. While the reformist theologians are offering new exegeses and readings, masses of worshippers are finding new outlets for free expression of their passions in superstitious and mystical practices. In the meantime, a bureaucratized religion jealously guards against any potential rivals, and using state power, condemns them all as heresies.

Conclusively, the author maintains that an unintended consequence of bureaucratization of religion is modernizing the traditional practices, which in itself is another avenue to secularization. In fact a state that was meant to re-legitimize charismatic-traditional authority, has turned into an agent of delegitimizing the traditions.

Rasool Nafisi
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