Anthropologist Alireza Doostdar’s first book, The Iranian Metaphysicals, is a well-written and theoretically sophisticated contribution to scholarship on modern Iranian history and society. Combining vividly portrayed ethnography with archival research and textual analysis, he offers an unprecedented account of Iranians’ experiences with and beliefs about the supernatural. The term ‘metaphysical’ emerges directly from his Iranian interlocutors, who use the Persian equivalents metafiziki or mavara’i to describe paranormal practices and phenomena ranging from sorcery and traditional occult sciences, to spirit possession and séances, to clairvoyance and teleportation. Although many elite Iranians, secularist and orthodox Shi‘i alike, have condemned interest in the occult as superstitious and irrational, Doostdar’s primary contention is that such interest actually undergirds modern notions of rational thought and scientific empiricism. This premise is convincingly supported by his detailed analyses of how Iranians, past and present, have attempted to render observations of the supernatural in rational terms. The men and women
whom Doostdar designates “metaphysical experimenters” are well read and well educated, including university students and professors, engineers, doctors, lawyers, and journalists. He builds on the psychoanalytic concept of the “uncanny” to explain how Iranians from these social and professional backgrounds reconcile their metaphysical experiences with their expressed commitments to science and reason. As shown in Doostdar’s interviews, the uncanny affect appears as the surprise, dread, disorientation, and even pleasure produced by encounters that seem to defy rational expectations. Doostdar argues that this uncanny sensibility drives intellectual wonder and curiosity, resulting in the development of avant-garde practices of rational inquiry that have driven Iranian intellectual and religious movements since the late nineteenth century.
Burton, Elise K.
"The Iranian Metaphysicals,"
International Dialogue: Vol. 8, Article 10.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/id-journal/vol8/iss1/10