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Messiahs, Mojaheds, & Marxists: Social Protest, Resistance, & Revolution in Modern Iran - HIS00173M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Eskandar Sadeghi
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

This module charts the historical lineages of revolt and popular politics in modern Iran from the mid-nineteenth century through to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and its immediate aftermath. Together we will explore the ways in which manifold revolutionary episodes and prefigurative social movements have shaped the political, social, and cultural fabric as well as intellectual lifeworlds of modern Iran and how they have persisted and reinvented themselves despite conditions of unforgiving repression at the hands of imperial powers, dictatorship, and counter-revolutionary violence. All too often histories of modern Iran have been focused on kings, dynasties, and more recently, Ayatollahs. This module aims to turn this well-worn approach on its head and examine instead the rich array of counter-histories, fugitive imaginaries, and utopian visions that have energised, inspired, and moved Iranians to action over the course of the long twentieth century.

To this end, we will excavate the all-too often marginalised histories of the millenarian Babi uprisings of 1848-1853, Armenian and Azeri social democrats in the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-11, the Jangalis and the Soviet Socialist Republic of Gilan, communist militants and union activists under Allied occupation, Kurdish radicals battling the central government for self-determination, anti-colonial nationalists and Marxist guerrillas with their dreams of non-alignment and Tricontinental solidarity across the Third World, Muslim revolutionaries’ theologies of insurrection and utopian programmes for Islamic statehood, and the Iranian women’s movement with its espousal of internationalist feminist solidarity and stirring defence of grassroots democracy. Drawing on a plethora of primary and secondary sources we will come to see how these ostensibly peripheral histories grounded in the struggles of social movements, subaltern intellectuals, and the popular classes have been central to the making of modern Iran and powerfully unsettle the standard pieties of nationalist historiography to show how Iranian radicals’ dreams for social transformation and liberation have always been planetary in aspiration and scope.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2024-25

Module aims

The aims of this module are to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. The Babi Insurrection: Religious Renewal and Political Militancy in late Qajar Iran
  2. From the Tobacco Rebellion to the Constitutional Revolution
  3. The Tudeh (Masses) Party: Socialism, Modernity, and the Iranian Labour Movement
  4. Mosaddeq, the 1953 Coup, and the Politics of Decolonisation
  5. The Struggle for Kurdish Self-Determination: From the Mahabad Republic to the Iranian Revolution of 1979
  6. Armed Struggle and Third World Solidarity in late Pahlavi Iran
  7. Red Shi ism vs. Black Shi ism?: The Many Faces of Iranian Islamism
  8. Feminism, Islamism and Women’s Mobilisation in the 1979 Revolution


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • Abbas Amanat, Iran: A Modern History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017).

  • Ali Mirsepassi and Arang Keshavarzian (eds.), Global 1979: Geographies and Histories of the Iranian Revolution (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021).

  • Negin Nabavi, Modern Iran: A History in Documents (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2015).

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.