Soroush, Abdolkarim 1945-

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SOROUSH, Abdolkarim 1945-


Born 1945, in Tehran, Iran. Education: Earned a degree in pharmacy in Iran; graduated from University of London (analytical chemistry); attended Chelsea College (history, philosophy of science).


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Educator, Iranian scholar. Laboratory for Food Products, Toiletries, and Sanitary Materials, Bushehr, Iran, director; Teacher Training College, Tehran, Iran, director of Islamic Culture Group; Institute for Cultural Studies, researcher; Tehran Academy of Philosophy, professor of ethics. Imam Sadeq Mosque, Tehran, lecturer; Tehran University, instructor; Harvard University, visiting professor. Military service: Served two years in the Iranian army..


Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, translated and edited by Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Other writings, including lecture series, have been published in Persian.


Islamic scholar and revisionist thinker Abdolkarim Soroush was described by Los Angeles Times writer Robin Wright as a "gentle man [who is] shaking the foundations of a faith that claims a billion followers, nearly one out of every five people on Earth. Both supporters and critics now call him the Martin Luther of Islam—a man whose ideas on religion and democracy could bridge the chasm between Muslim societies and the outside world."

Soroush's philosophical beliefs began forming when as a student in London he was active in the Muslim Youth Association during the prerevolutionary years. He lectured at the imam-barah which was the center of their activities, and many of these talks were produced as pamphlets. He returned to Iran during the revolution and was charged with weakening the Marxist thought that had infiltrated Iranian politics. The plan was to keep the universities closed for at least twenty years, in which time fundamental reforms would have been established.

It was this experience that led Soroush to question the rigid interpretation of Islam and the establishment that used religion as a front for their politics and their economic aspirations. He championed democracy, and his ideas were published in columns in a magazine called Kiyan (title means "Source or Soul"), which was created just for this purpose. Because of his challenges to the prevailing ideology, Soroush was harassed and exiled. He returned to Iran following the 1997 election of reformist President Muhammad Khatami and gained a strong following with many Iranian students and some of the mullahs.

Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush is a collection of eleven of Soroush's seminal essays, originally published in Persian between 1985 and 1994. The editors have provided not only the translations but also an insightful interview that affords a better understanding of Soroush's life and philosophy. L. Carl Brown noted in Foreign Affairs that Soroush "cites the likes of Jalal al-Din Rumi, Muhammad Iqbal, Jorgen Habermas, and Alexis de Tocqueville as often as the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad."

Soroush does not get involved in politics, but rather affirms that the leaders of the Islamic religion should not also be the leaders of governments—in other words, a separation of church and state. "As did the Reformation," noted Wright, "Soroush's argument establishes the rights of individuals—in their relationship both with government and with God. And like democracy anywhere, the beliefs and will of the majority at the bottom define the ideal Islamic state. It can't be imposed from the top or by an elite."

Ali Ansari wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that "in his critique of the intellectual activities of the ulema, Soroush is in many ways continuing a tradition established by Jamal al Din al Afghani and, later, Ali Shariati. But whereas the latter were rebels with a cause, often eclectic and ambiguous in their pronunciations, Soroush is more exacting, seeking in precise ways to redefine the parameters of Iranian political and philosophical debate." In a Middle East Journal review, Mehrzad Boroujerdi said that the essays in this book "make abundantly clear why his admirers consider Soroush and innovative thinker while the clerical officialdom in Iran regards him as an enfant terrible."



Foreign Affairs, September-October, 2000, L. Carl Brown, review of Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, p. 148.

Los Angeles Times, January 27, 1995, Robin Wright, "Islamist's Theory of Relativity," pp. A1, A10-A11.

Middle East Journal, summer, 2001, Mehrzad Boroujerdi, review of Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, p. 519.

Times Literary Supplement, May 24, 2002, Ali Ansari, review of Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, p. 26.


Middle East Institute, (January 8, 2003), Romain Fremont, "Policy Briefs: Islamic Democracy and Islamic Governance."*