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Abdolkarim Soroush


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Abdolkarim Soroush is a researcher at the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies in Iran. One of the Muslim world's most influential thinkers for his analysis of the relationship between religious and secular knowledge and authority, Soroush has also been a visiting professor at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale Universities and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. In 2005, Time listed him as one of the world’s 100 most influential individuals. A good introduction to his numerous publications is Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writing of Abdolkarim Soroush (2000, translated and edited by Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri). Born in Tehran in 1945, Soroush studied pharmacy in Iran before moving to the United Kingdom to continue his studies in the philosophy of science and history at Chelsea College. Soroush returned to Iran after the fall of the shah and published Knowledge and Value (Danesh va Arzesh), the first of many books relating Islam to the challenges of democracy and modernity. He was appointed director of the Islamic Culture Group at Tehran’s Teacher Training College. In 1983, disillusioned with the course of the Iranian revolution, Soroush resigned from the Culture Revolution Council and moved to the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies, with which he remains affiliated. He was a visiting fellow and scholar in residence with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs during the spring 2008 semester.

Soroush founded a magazine, Kiyan, in the 1990s, which became a central forum for religious intellectualism in Iran but was closed down by the Iranian government in 1998. He came under increasing scrutiny and harassment by the Iranian government for his arguments that the inevitable fallibility of human interpretation of religion precludes the Ayatollah’s claim to divinely sanctioned authority and that there is no need for ‘official’ religious interpretations because religion is not an ideology. He argues for an institutional separation of religious and political authority while allowing for the religious nature of democracy in religious societies. Soroush was eventually prevented from lecturing and removed from his teaching positions.

Soroush’s diverse interests have led him to examine such topics as ethics and human sciences, intellectualism and pietism, the evolution of religious knowledge, the philosophical system of Moulana Rumi, and Persian Sufi poetry in his more than 30 books. Though most of Soroush’s books have been published in Persian and Turkish, he is author of many essays in English on tolerance, pluralism, Islamic democracy, and comparative philosophy. His most recent work focuses on reformation in Muslim thought, addressing such issues as freedom of belief, the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and Muslims’ freedom to interpret the Qur'an.