Modernity and Shifting Sexual Mores in Iran Discussed at CWH Meeting

Note: The following is a report from an event at the recent 125th Annual Meeting. This month we hope to bring you more coverage from the annual meeting.

Modernity leads, one likes to believe, to greater freedom, equality, tolerance, and such other melioristic goals. This is not always the case, as Janet Afary pointed out in her talk at the well-attended Saturday morning breakfast meeting of the AHA’s Committee on Women Historians (CWH).

Tracing, with telling detail, the changing attitudes to homosexuality in Iran, Afary said that despite the Koranic injunctions against it, private and discreet homosexual relationships had been culturally and socially tolerated in Iran until the early 20th century. The cultural, economic, and political determinants of modernity—which could be said to begin with the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, and the concurrent rise of normative heterosexuality fundamentally altered sociocultural attitudes toward homosexuality and eventually led to its criminalization in the 1930s, said Afary.

Afary, the Mellichamp Professor of Global Religion and Modernity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author, among other books, of Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (which won the 2009 book award of the British Society for Middle East Studies), was earlier introduced by Margaret A. Strobel (University of Illinois at Chicago), the chair of the CWH.

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