Mojtahed-Shabestari, Mohammad (1937– )

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Born in 1937, Mohammad Mojtahed-Shabestari attended Qom Seminary at the age of fourteen. During his eighteen years of study in Qom, he was influenced by the new philosophical and theological currents that were gaining popularity among the younger generation of theologians. Subsequently, he expanded his learning to the conventional secular curriculum and independently studied contemporary Western philosophies and languages. In 1970, he moved to Germany where he later succeeded Ayatollah Beheshti as the director of the Hamburg Islamic Center, a post he held until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. After the revolution, he was elected to the first Islamic Consultative Assembly and is a faculty member of the School of Theology and Islamic Studies at the University of Tehran.

Mojtahed-Shabestari is one of the leading Iranian advocates of the hermeneutic approach to Islamic theology. In his book, Hermenutik, Ketab Va Sunnat (Hermeneutics, the Book and Tradition), he advances a theology largely extricated from earlier apologetic Islamic modernism. Influenced by the German theologian Paul Tillich and German phenomenology of religion, he argues that theological innovations emerge from the religious experiences of each generation of believers rather than from doctrinal debates. The interpretation of the divine text is mediated by history, society, body, and language. While a hermeneutic approach acknowledges these contingencies, it also endeavors to transcend them. However, this transcendence can never be total and, accordingly, truth-claims may never be absolute. Truth belongs to God and remains inaccessible to human faculties.

See alsoReform: Iran .


Farzin Vahdat, "Postrevolutionary Discourses of Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Mohsen Kadivar: Reconciling the Terms of Mediated Subjectivity," Critique, no. 16 (Spring 2000): 31–54.

Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi