?Abd Al-Karim Sorush (1945–)

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˓Abd al-Karim Sorush is the pen-name of Hassan Haj-Faraj Dabbagh. Born in 1945 in Tehran, Sorush attended Alavi High School, an alternative school that offered a rigorous curriculum of Islamic studies in addition to the state-mandated, standardized education in math and sciences. He studied Islamic law and exegesis with Reza Ruzbeh, one of the founders of the school. He attended Tehran University, and in 1969 graduated with a degree in pharmacology. He continued his postgraduate education in history and philosophy of science at Chelsea College in London. In 1979 he returned to Iran after the revolution, and soon thereafter was appointed by Ayatollah Khomeini to the Cultural Revolution Council. He resigned from this controversial post in 1983.

In his most celebrated book, Qabz va Bast-i Teorik-i Shari˓at (The theoretical constriction and expansion of the shari˓a), Sorush developed a general critique of dogmatic interpretations of religion. He argued that, when turned into a dogma, religion becomes ideological and loses its universality. He held that religious knowledge is inevitably historical and culturally contingent, and that it is distinct from religion, the truth of which is solely possessed by God. He posited that culture, language, history, and human subjectivity mediate the comprehension of the revealed text. Therefore, human understandings of the physical world, through science, for instance, and the changing nature of the shared values of human societies (such as citizenship and social and political rights) inform and condition religious knowledge.

There was a contradiction between Sorush's understanding of epistemological problems of human knowledge, which he saw as logical and methodical, and his emphasis on the historical contingencies of the hermeneutics of the divine text. This contradiction was resolved in his later writing in favor of a more hermeneutical approach. In his early work, he was influenced by analytical philosophy and skepticism of a post-positivist logic, whereas in his later writings he adopted a more hermeneutical approach to the meaning of the sacred text. In his earlier work he put forward epistemological questions about the limits and truthfulness of claims regarding knowledge, but in two important later books, Siratha-yi mustaqim (1998, Straight paths) and Bast-e tajrubih-e Nabavi (1999, The expansion of the prophetic experience), he emphasized the reflexivity and plurality of human understanding. In his plural usage of the Qur˒anic phrase "straight paths," Sorush offered a radical break with both modernist and orthodox traditions in Islamic theology.

In the 1990s, Sorush emerged as one the most influential Muslim thinkers in Iran. His theology contributed to the emergence of a generation of Muslim reformers who challenged the legitimization of the Islamic Republic's rule based on divine sources rather than on democratic principles and popular consent.

See alsoIran, Islamic Republic of ; Khomeini, Ruhollah .


Sadri, Mahmoud, and Sadri, Ahmad, eds. Reason, Freedom, &Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of ˓Abdolkarim Soroush. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi