Winner of the Middle East Studies Association’s 2018 Albert Hourani Book Award, Alireza Doostdar’s The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny...

Winner of the Middle East Studies Association’s 2018 Albert Hourani Book Award, Alireza Doostdar’s The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny (Princeton University Press, 2018) is a mesmerizing study of discourses and practices surrounding the Occult sciences or ‘metaphysicals’ in contemporary Iran. Thoroughly disrupting the common association of the Occult with popular religion and mystical enchantment, this book explores the complex and conflicting rationalities that inform varied metaphysical experimentations occupying a range of Iranian actors. Through a pulsating interrogation that moves seamlessly between narrative and analysis, Doostdar demonstrates that the landscape of the Occult sciences in Iran cannot be explained through the confining binary or opposition between state orthodoxy/paternalism and popular religion. In our conversation, we talked about a range of issues including the rationality of enchantment, geomancy, Iranian spiritists, the coalescence of pre-modern Muslim intellectual traditions with modern scientific notions of empiricism, and the negotiation of secrecy and revelation in hagiographies. The Iranian Metaphysicals is an incredible scholarly achievement that will be debated and discussed for many years, and will make a great text to wrestle with in the classroom as well.


SherAli Tareen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College. His research focuses on Muslim intellectual traditions and debates in early modern and modern South Asia. His academic publications are available here. He can be reached at ([email protected]). Listener feedback is most welcome.

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