Shah to Shia

An anthropologic look at the Islamic Revolution in one Iranian village.

Days of Revolution takes a close look at how the Islamic Revolution in Iran played out in one village. And it sheds new light on the causes of discontent.
In the summer of 1978, anthropologist Mary E. Hegland arrived in the rural village of Aliabad in southwestern Iran intending to study agricultural credit systems. She ended up witnessing the Islamic Revolution that toppled the Shah, held 52 U.S. embassy staff hostage for more than a year, and created today’s nuclear-negotiating Islamic Republic of Iran. In Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village (Stanford University Press)—winner of the gold medal for world history in the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards—the SCU anthropology professor challenges the widely accepted explanation for the revolution: that the Shah’s Western-style modernization efforts had gone too far, too fast and sparked a backlash by Islamic conservatives. Hegland suggests that the greater issue was uneven modernization, which left some Iranians with more than others. She says the revolution might not have happened if the Shah hadn’t suppressed the traditional system for challenging position and political power at the local level, which included conciliation. In Aliabad, villagers waited to see which side was likely to win before throwing their support that way. They turned to Shia symbols, rituals, rhetoric, and religious leaders only after they had decided to support the revolutionary forces.

post-image Aliabad peasants carrying picks and shovels march in protest against the former village authorities in November 1979. View full image. Iran photography by Mary E. Hegland
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