Standing Working Group

Iran and Beyond Breaking the Ground for Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration (IRSSC)

Performance of Culture, Religion, and Body as Strategies of Self-Empowerment in the Islamic Republic Iran

Project Leadership: Dr. Katja Rieck

Principal Investigators:
PD Dr. Robert Langer (Research Field The Religious History of Anatolia),
PD Dr. Judith I. Haug (Research Field Music in the Ottoman Empire and in Turkey),
Dr. Melike Şahinol (Research Field Human, Medicine, and Society)

It is the aim of the International Standing Working Group IRSSC to explore possibilities and limits of cooperation especially with Iranian researchers and academic institutions by employing innovative research topics. Cultural, social and religious connections in the transregional continuum stretching from Anatolia to Iran and beyond to Pakistan will be in the focus of attention.

Under difficult economic conditions and in the context of rapid socio-cultural change due to globalization and the demographic shift, citizens of Iran make use of their cultural resources in various ways to confront the struggles of their daily lives. In the face of globalization, migration, urbanization, and the dissemination of technically mediated forms of expression, practices of cultural expression are modified and multiplied, becoming socially differentiated. In this context, local as well as global patterns of cultural, religious, and bodily performance are gaining importance. Traditional forms of authenticity (such as the identities of minorities or regional music styles), global forms of expression (esotericism, new kinds of religiosity, transhumanism as a postmodern current, vegetarianism/veganism, music-related subcultures), but also advanced technological possibilities for the “conquest of the human condition” (‘Human Enhancement’) are causing profound transformations of social interaction and group identities as well as the human body. On the basis of selected research questions, mainly pertaining to the Turkey–Iran–Pakistan sphere, IRSSC investigates the efficacy of these concepts – be it in cross-border entanglements or in their parallel existence.

The creative appropriation of practices and discourses that is fostering rapid social change takes place in tension to and in dialog with currently accepted norms and practices. These are for example related to Shiite Islam, and phenomena such as those concerning body habitus, religious ritual, gender roles as well as active and passive access to music. Conditions of modern-day mediality and the resulting multiplication of social interaction lead to a larger, internally more differentiated, and hybrid repertoire of practices in dealing with public institutions as well as with an international public sphere, e.g. via social media. These questions will be investigated with qualitative methods of social and cultural research in relation to the areas of music, religion, and (body-modifying) therapeutic and non-therapeutic medicine.

In addition to project research, the chief aim of the IRSCC is to clarify the potential for establishing an international research network that integrates scholars from the region, especially Iran, in international knowledge communication and production.

The following projects are part of IRSSC:

Iran: Classical Music and Society

Supervised by: Dr. des. Kamyar Nematollahy, Musician and Ethnomusicologist from the University of Cologne.

The project explores the reciprocal relationship between Iranian classical music and the socio-political circumstances of Iran during recent years. Accordingly, one of the central objectives of this project is to illustrate the dynamics of change in Iranian music in the context of the various socio-political factors such as the ideology of the state, self-reflection, collective identity, modernization and globalization. A further research theme is analyzing music’s various functions in constructing or imagining a collective identity in Iran.

The following three articles will present the research results according to the mentioned domains of inquiry:

1. “Iranian Classical Music, Virtual Space, Real Changes”

This article examines the influence of social media on performative as well as social aspects of Iranian classical music. In order to explore the changes social networks are creating within the practice and social circumstances of Iranian music, methodologies of various disciplines such as musicology, social anthropology, and media studies are employed. One of the chief sources of data collection for this research is the relevant textual, visual or auditory data on the internet. The major platforms through which data will be collected are Instagram and Telegram, due to their great popularity among Iranians and their centrality as sites of debate, exchange, and dissemination. As the analysis of Iranian music in the context of new media and the internet is a novel subject, Nematollahy has conducted e-fieldwork involving observation as well as interviews with musicians who are active on social media. 

2. “Iranian Music and the Construction of Collective Identity: the 1970s and Early-Revolutionary Iran”

This article explores interaction between Iranian classical music and collective identity in Iran chiefly during the early years of the Islamic Revolution. One of the central issues analyzed in this contribution is the relationship between the Chāvosh music series – as the most influential set of music productions of the late 1970s and 1980s – and the socio-political circumstances of Iran. In addition to the social and political aspects of Chāvosh, the technical aspects of Chāvosh music pieces are analyzed through music and lyrics transcriptions. This constitutes a novel approach in the academic research of Iranian music. The enquiry will be based on interviews with some influential musicians in Iran about how they perceive identity and also how they practice it in their work.

3. “Understanding Iranian Music through Music Institutions”

The number of non-governmental music institutions in Iran has increased dramatically in recent years. This article explores the types of musical instruments and the genres of music that are being taught in some of Tehran’s best-known institutes. Furthermore, the musical activities of various age groups and genders will be compared. The chief goal of this research is to reveal the musical tastes of Iranians in various age groups, specifically the place of Iranian classical music in the musical teaching curriculum as musical trends in Iran shift over time. Data will be collected by fieldwork and observation of activities in music institutes of Tehran. Insights into Iranian music institutions will also facilitate further transnational collaborations in the field of musicology.

Bodies of Knowledge facing epidemics: (Islamicate) Humoral Medicine vs. Prophetic Medicine

Supervised by: Shahrzad Irannejad

Duration: October 2020 – September 2021

 In line with the global Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) movement, the past decade in Iran has witnessed a local revival of a branch of CAM branded as Traditional Persian Medicine (TPM). From a historical perspective, TPM is an offshoot of humoral, Greco-Arabic medicine received in the Persianate world. This body of knowledge shares its tenets of humoral pathophysiology with another competing body: namely, Prophetic Medicine. The humoral medical framework, which these two camps share, lacks a consolidated concept of contagion in its canonical encyclopedic texts. Within this paradigm, it is the imbalance in the temperament and the humors of a given body that causes diseases in that very body. A set of external factors can affect this balance (The Six Non-Naturals); however, no canonized notion exists within this framework of a body being capable of engendering disease in another body. Furthermore, the concept of contagion is even further contested within Prophetic Medicine due to hotly debated Prophetic traditions that deny the existence of contagion.

The project aims to understand the tension between individual observations of the phenomenon of contagion and the absence of a concept of contagion in the paradigms with which actors are affiliated, drawing on both historical and contemporary evidence. This tension is addressed against a backdrop of the religious, cultural and political context of the agents of knowledge. This project navigates between philology and medical sociology. It addresses the two fields of science/knowledge of TPM and PM in relation to their textual traditions and social context. By drawing on historical (philological) and contemporary (sociological) sources, the study strives to understand how individual agents of knowledge reconcile empirical observations of the phenomenon of contagion with the resistance of both medical paradigms (of TPM and PM) to the full integration of contagion into their conceptual framework.

The project brings together the research interests of two disciplinary groups within Orient-Institut Istanbul: “Human, Medicine and Society” and “History of Religions”.

A Cartography of Hair:y_less Masculinities. A comparison between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey

Supervised by: Dr. Melike Şahinol

Research Assistant: Burak Taşdizen, MSc

Duration: January 2020 – January 2022

Project blog:

“Hair:y_less Masculinities” is part of Max Weber Foundation’s Knowledge Unbound, and is funded by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

The growing cultural enthusiasm for cosmetic surgery and the techno-medical modification of the body have long since reached men’s world, and thus, medicalized masculinities. Among the top five cosmetic procedures most frequently chosen by men are laser epilation in the category of minimally invasive cosmetic procedures and hair transplantation in the category of cosmetic surgical procedures. Turkey and Iran, the two countries emerging as world’s health tourism destinations around the globe, have not remained indifferent to the increasing interest in cosmetic surgery in particular for hair transplant procedures tailored towards men. Considering its location, Turkey’s health tourism appeals to men medical tourists from both the West and the Middle East. Iran, following Turkey, emerges to have the second largest market share in the Middle East.

With a special emphasis on the somatechnics of male hair removal and transplantation practices, this project analyses men’s hair care by drawing a cartography of male body hair removal and hair transplantation norms and practices in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Turkey. The comparative perspective between these practices in Iran and Turkey is therefore significant in order to elaborate country-specific socio-cultural differences, influences coming from various currents, different empowerment strategies surrounding beauty, body care and (medicalized) masculinities despite cultural proximity.

(Re)Doing Charity: From Post-Revolutionary Governmentality of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Civil Society Self-Empowerment? 

Supervised by: Dr. Katja Rieck, Postdoctoral Fellow, Orient-Institut Istanbul

Duration: 1 July 2019 – 30 June 2020

Charity is an important obligation for all practicing Muslims, taking the form not only of the obligatory payment of zakat, and in the case of Shia communities also khoms, but also of the performance of sadaqa, voluntary offerings or good deeds for the benefit of others. As living cultural and religious practices, actors adapt the religious traditions of charitable giving to have them take on additional, particular meanings in their specific situations. Hence, the forms of charitable giving recounted by scholars such as Amy Singer and other specialists of the Ottoman Empire differ in many ways from the sorts of charitable practices embodied in contemporary Muslim organizations like Muslim Relief or Muslim Aid. My own interest is informed by this larger context of work done on Muslim charity in past and contemporary contexts throughout the Muslim world and the diaspora. Research on contemporary charitable practices, in particular, has highlighted them as sites of the performance of new identities and (gendered) forms of citizenship as well as of the creation of new local and transnational networks of action often with the support of new media allowing for new spaces of self-assertion and social empowerment. The focus of this project is on the contemporary transformations of charitable practices in the Islamic Republic of Iran, how these transformations are embedded in global and transregional developments, and how these are imbricated in socio-cultural changes in Iranian society. Further, given that developments in Iran have at times foreshadowed those in other parts of the Middle East, the study aims to identify important loci of transformation relevant to other parts of the region. 

The project joins Iranian colleagues in mapping some of these activities and in conducting ethnographic research on selected case studies to document and analyze the changes taking place in charitable practices in Iran. What are the formative influences of emerging practices of civil society charity? What role does the reinterpretation of religious tradition play? How have changing gender roles and identities in Iran come to impact charitable practices? To what extent do transnationally circulating discourses and practices (re)shape civil society charity activities (such as those related to efficiency, efficacy, and transparency), what meanings do these take on in the Iranian context, and what effects do they have? What role does the local and transnational media play in the formation of such new practices? The creative use of information and communication technology, in particular the messaging service Telegram, for example, has been crucial to the development of innovative charitable practices. How do such new charitable practices interact with government institutions? Do they simply bolster the status quo, or do they provide an impetus for change by serving as positive exemplars for new government practices, making possible new identities and subject positions, and opening new fields of intervention for new social actors? Are other effects observable among both providers and recipients of charitable works, such as the formation of new social networks (either within Iran or with links outside the country), the emergence of new lines of social antagonism or even new identities? Are charitable activities really paths to self-empowerment, or do they simply reproduce existing hierarchies along class, religious or ethno-linguistic lines thereby stabilizing existing socio-economic structures, perhaps even creating new ones? These are among the questions pursued through extensive fieldwork and collaboration with Iranian colleagues already active in this field, as well as with other colleagues in the region.

Upcoming Events:

10.-12.6.2021: The Materiality of Everyday Religiosity: Historical and Contemporary Dynamics in Turkey and in Iran, Orient-Institut Istanbul, online.

27.-28.5.2021: Medicalized Masculinities Workshop (in collaboration with Medicine Man, Southern University of Denmark), Orient-Institut Istanbul.

Past Events:

20.10.2020: Medicalized Masculinities: Knowledge Exchange from Denmark to Turkey (in collaboration with Medicine Man, Southern University of Denmark), Orient-Institut Istanbul, online (workshop programme:

25.6.2020: Iterations of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Themes and Problem Spaces in Turkey, Iran and Germany, Orient-Institut Istanbul, online (workshop report:

21.1.2020: Technology and the Body: Care, Empowerment and the Fluidity of Bodies, Orient-Institut Istanbul (workshop report:

20.5.2019: IRSSC Kick-off Workshop (workshop report:


Şahinol, M. & Taşdizen, B. (2021). “Medicalized Masculinities in Turkey and Iran: The Eigensinn of Hair in Hair Transplant Procedure”. Submitted for publication.

Şahinol, M. & Taşdizen, B. (2021). “İnsan Sonrası Erkeklik: Saç Ekimi Örneği”. Submitted for publication.

Nematollahy, Kamyar. (2021). “Iranian Music and the Construction of Collective Identity: the 1970s and early-revolutionary Iran”.  Submitted for publication.

Nematollahy, Kamyar. (2021). “Virtual Space, Real Changes: A Study on the Impact of Social Media on Iranian Classical Music”. In preparation.


Rieck, K. “Mundane and Basic, But Existential – On the Everyday Challenges of Building International Scholarly Collaborative Networks,” Orient-Institut Istanbul Blog, 20 November 2020.

Khan, H. A. & Iqbal, A. “Research on the Rifa’iyya, a Sufi Order in South-Western Asia“. Wissen Entgrenzen Blog der Max Weber Stiftung, 28 August 2020.

Rieck, K., Şahinol, M. & Taşdizen, B. (2020): “Iterations of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Themes and Problem Spaces in Turkey, Iran and Germany”, Blog of the Orient-Institut Istanbul, 31. July 2020.

Rieck, K. “Building Sustainable Scholarly Collaboration With Iran (and Beyond): Of COVID-19 and other challenges, Orient-Institut Istanbul Blog, 3 July 2020.


Nematollahy, Kamyar. (2021). Podcast: “The Young Generation of Iranian Composers in Digital Era”. In preparation.

Nematollahy, K. (2020): “Iranian Classical Music Since the 1970s: The Discourses of Tradition and Identity”. Orient Institute. 23 September 2020. Online lecture.

Şahinol, M. & Taşdizen, B. (2020): “Everyday Cyborgs: Men with Implanted/Transplanted Hair and its Eigensinn”, EASST + 4S Joint Conference: Locating and Timing Matters: Significance and Agency of STS in Emerging Worlds, 18-21 August 2020, online.

Irannejad, S. (2020): “Absence of a Concept? Contagion, Medicine and Pilgrimage”. Study of Religions Meeting: Religion and Epidemics, 21 May 2020, Orient-Institut, Istanbul, online.

Khan, H. A. & Iqbal, A. (2020): The Rifa’iyya in South-Western Asia. Orient-Institut Istanbul Research Colloquium, 13 May 2020, online.

Şahinol, M. & Taşdizen, B. (2020): “Cartography of Hair:y_less Masculinities: An Introduction”, Orient-Institut Istanbul Research Colloquium, 1 April 2020, online.

Taşdizen, B. (2020): “Posthuman Feminist Theory: Body Modification and Empowerment”, Technology and the Body: Care, Empowerment and the Fluidity of Bodies, 21 January 2020, Istanbul (Turkey).

Rieck, K. (2019): “Redoing Charity in Media Res: The Challenges of Crafting a Proposal for Funding for a Study of Civil Society Charity Organizations in Contemporary Iran”. Orient-Institut Istanbul Research Colloquium, 16 October 2019.