Dr Hadi Enayat teaches courses in International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), at the University of London. Here, he tells us how growing up in pre-revolutionary Iran and living and working in Tunisia and Egypt informed his decision to move into Academia, and why he has decided to remain in the profession when so many others have left.
What are the factors in your background that led you to embark on a career in academia?
When I was a teenager the last thing I wanted to be was an academic. Both my parents were academics and being rebellious, their careers put me off rather than encouraged me! I not only rebelled against academia, I passionately rejected it. I grew up in Iran and witnessed the early stages of the 1979 revolution. As a result, I grew up being curious about politics, particularly the effect that religion had on politics. I had seen family members and close family friends who had suffer at the hands of both the Pahlavi monarchy and the Islamic Republic. This meant I always had an instinctive and somewhat emotional interest in the politics of Iran and the wider Middle East.
My family left Iran after the revolution and I found school in England difficult. I did not do very well. After leaving school, I traveled and worked abroad. My time in Tunisia and Egypt in particular led to me becoming more and more attracted to academia but I was still reluctant to commit myself to it full-time. I worked in the voluntary sector (mainly with homeless charities and refugee organisations) and decided to do a part-time MSc in Politics and Sociology at Birkbeck College which was a great success, both academically and socially and eventually I decided to do a PhD at Birkbeck.
I chose to do my PhD on legal reform in Iran from the nineteenth century to the end of the Pahlavi monarchy in 1979. I chose this subject not so much because I was interested in law per se but because it was a useful (and relatively neglected) angle on the dialectic of secularization and de-secularization in modern Iran. I spent four years (2000-2004) conducting research in mainly in Teheran. My time there coincided with the second term of President Khatami’s term in office which disappointed many Iranians who were hopeful for meaningful democratic change under his Presidency.
After my PhD I began teaching. I have taught at various institutions: I am currently Associate Tutor at the Centre for Diplomacy and international Studies at SOAS where I teach a range of courses, primarily International Relations. I am also visiting Professor at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London where I teach a course on the intellectual history of the Muslim world with a focus on the modern period.
What considerations influenced your decision to stay in this field?
The social and intellectual pleasure I gain from teaching and learning with my students has probably been the most important factor in keeping me in this profession. Teaching and working with young people brings me joy, as does the fulfilment and satisfaction I gain from researching and writing about subjects about which I am passionate. The neo-liberalization of the university over the past three decades has made academia a less appealing profession (and has led to many people, including dear friends, leaving the profession).
What are your academic and research priorities, and why?
Thus far I have concentrated mainly on issues of law, sharia, secularization and revolution as these resonated with me personally (due to my Iranian background). Until recently, relatively little was known about these areas and even less was published in English.
I am now moving into the related but more politically urgent field of Human Rights, Democracy and Eco-Socialism. I am interested in how these are - or might be - developing or are being articulated among Muslim communities globally in the future.
How can researchers/academics in wealthier countries ensure that partnerships with those we work with in the global south are equitable?
By maintaining an equitable dialogue and learning more of the languages of the global south. By bringing in academics from the global south into institutions of the global north. By challenging the role that universities of the global north play in sustaining oppressive neo-colonial structures in the global south.
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
To contribute to a greater public understanding of issues surrounding religion, law, democracy and revolution. To contribute to the project of ‘decolonising’ knowledge in these fields without losing sight of structural issues or lapsing into cultural relativism and nativism. To contribute to a more critical understanding of modern Iranian history and help provide a knowledge base for those interested in modern Iranian, politics, law and human rights.
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