Areas of Study and Research
PhD (Harvard University)
Alireza Doostdar’s research and teaching bring together anthropological approaches to the study of Islam, science, gender, embodiment, and the state. His first book, The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny (Princeton University Press, 2018), examines the rationalization of the metaphysical “unseen” in Iran since the early twentieth century. Through ethnographic and historical analysis, it considers a range of knowledges and practices usually treated as marginal to orthodox Islam: sorcery and occult sciences, séances with the souls of the dead, jinn exorcisms, the marvels of Shi‘i mystics, and various New Age-inflected therapeutic spiritualities. His other interests include the relationship between revolution and state in Iran, Iranian spiritual cinema and its engagements with Hollywood sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, and debates over the Islamization of the social sciences.
Prof. Doostdar has received the 2018 Albert Hourani Book Award from MESA, the Middle East Studies Association for his book The Iranian Metaphysicals: Explorations in Science, Islam, and the Uncanny (Princeton University Press,2018). The book award citation states that "The Iranian Metaphysicals is an erudite but rollicking book. Alireza Doostdar provides an elegant anthropological analysis of contemporary Iranian metaphysical pursuits and their relationship with science, state orthodoxy, and politics. The “religious” life he presents defies easy categorization. Doostdar’s interlocutors are adepts and consumers of occult practices such as fortune telling, exorcism, and the séance. These practices bring together local traditions and figures of divination with elements from European and American movements like Scientology, Theosophy, and Native American shamanism. Science and rationality play a key role for many of these practitioners by providing a framework of authority through which they understand and justify what they are doing. Doostdar insists upon the connections of these scientific domains with the occult, as well as with other social fields such as entertainment and aesthetics. In this way, his book not only investigates a surprising and overlooked area of contemporary Iranian society, but also advances an innovative study of modern social discourses as people fashion and experience religion, individually, in everyday life. Among the exemplary features of Doostdar’s book is its refusal either to conflate modernity with liberal rationalism or to dismiss his interlocutors’ practices as anti-modern reactive or residual tendencies. The Iranian Metaphysicals provides a salutary model for moving beyond outdated and distorted conceptions of modernity in ways that are as relevant for Western countries as they are for a country like Iran, and that have comparative import beyond Islamic studies, too."
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a non-profit association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom.