Abdolkarim Soroush is a religious leader of great importance in Iran. In an era where influences of the modern world are making an impact on Iranians, Soroush has been continually trying to instil religious and philosophical values in the people of his nation. He has played a pivotal role in bridging the gaps between people’s understanding of ‘religion’ and the actual intention of Islam. He has decrypted the differences between the words ‘belief’ and ‘faith’ for the masses. Soroush has also served as a professor of philosophy at the Imam Khomeini international university and the University of Tehran. He has preached the importance of Islam in the modern world, at renowned universities across the world such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Columbia, where he served as a visiting professor. Soroush has expressed his opinions on religion and philosophy by writing around 25 books. As per a survey conducted by the ‘Time Magazine’ in the year 2005, Soroush found a place amongst the top 100 influential people of the world. The UK magazine ‘Prospect’ rated him as the ‘seventh most influential intellect’ living in the world, as per a poll conducted in the year 2008.
Childhood & Early Life
Abdolkarim Soroush was born on 16 December 1945 in Tehran. He comes from a middle class background and his original name is Hosein-Haj-Faraj.
Soroush sought his primary education from ‘Qa Immiyeh’ school located in Tehran. Later, Soroush went to the Mortazavi and Alavi high schools respectively to complete his secondary education.
His time at Alavi, made a huge impact on Soroush’s personality, since the school emphasized that their students should possess equally sound knowledge in both modern sciences and matters of religion.
Soroush pursued a degree in philosophy in Iran after clearing the National Entrance Exam. On completing the degree, Soroush moved to London to study further, and at the same time get familiar with the western world.
He first obtained a degree in Analytical Chemistry from the University of London, later he studied history and philosophy of science at the well known Chelsea college.
In 1979, Iranian Revolution took place and as a result Iranian ruler Mohammed Shah Pahlavi was overthrown. As a result, political gatherings of the Iranians residing in the Western world increased. Soroush too took part in such gatherings and it was his first tryst with the politics.
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Soroush came back to Iran after the political revolution ended. He published his book ‘Knowledge and Value’, which was penned during his stay at England. Later, Soroush served as the director of the Islamic cultural group at the Tehran teacher’s training college.
He was appointed by the famous religious leader ‘Khomeini’, as the member of the Cultural Revolution Committee. This committee was formed after shutting down all universities in Iran, and consisted of only seven members, including Soroush.
In the year 1983, Soroush ended his relationship with Teacher’s training college, apparently due to his differences with the college management. He later got himself transferred to the institute for Cultural research and studies, and has been offering his services as a researcher till date.
Soroush strongly criticised the involvement of clergies in political affairs, during the 1990’s. In a magazine called ‘Kiyan’, which he had co-founded, Soroush published many controversial articles based on tolerance, clericalism, hermeneutics and religious pluralism. The magazine was clamped down by members of an orthodox Islamic group in the year 1998.
More than a thousand tapes of Soroush’s lectures on matters of literary, political, and religious importance were distributed across various parts of the globe. This move angered orthodox outfits of Iran, who continually harassed Soroush to an extent that he lost his job and security.
Since 2000, Soroush has been offering his services as a visiting scholar at various prestigious institutions across the world such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, the German institute –Wissenschaftkolleg, and the University of Chicago.
One amongst Soroush’s many philosophies was bridging the gap between one’s own interpretation of ‘religion’ and the actual interpretation. In this regard, he has written a book named ‘Expansion of Prophetic Experience’. This book was also dedicated to a professor named Komeil Sadeghi, who influenced Soroush greatly with his religious beliefs.
His major contribution to Iranian philosophy was introducing a whole new definition to the term ‘Religious Philosophy’. According to him ‘religious philosophy’ was the importance of religious values in shaping up a society or a living community.
Soroush disagreed with the Iranian clergy’s involvement in the political affairs of the nation. All his arguments were compiled in the form of a book called ‘Theoretical Expansion and Contraction Of Religious Knowledge’
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Abdolkarim Soroush has also authored around 25 books, which are based on his understandings of science, religion, and philosophy. Amongst these books, the notable ones include ‘What Is Science, What Is Philosophy’, ‘Satanic Ideology’, ‘Tolerance And Governance’, and ‘Intellectualism And Religious Conviction’.
Awards & Achievements
In the year 2004, Soroush was honoured with the prestigious ‘Erasmus Prize’ for his outstanding contribution towards culture and society.
Soroush was one among the ‘100 Most Influential People in The World’, as per a survey conducted by the TIME magazine in the year 2005.
He also found himself in the list of ‘The Most Influential Intellectuals in The World’, as per a 2008 survey conducted by the UK based Prospect magazine.
In the years 2009 and 2010, Soroush made it to the Foreign Policy magazine’s list of ‘World’s Elite Intellectuals’. He stood at the 45th and 40th positions respectively, on this list, for both these years.
Personal Life & Legacy
Soroush’s family consists of his wife, daughter and son-in-law. Various radical groups and political outfits have apparently tortured his family because of his ‘rebellious’ political and religious beliefs.
According to few online sources, Sourosh has been called ‘The enemy of Islam’ by members of few orthodox Iranian groups. These people haven’t even spared Sourosh’s daughter, who was called a ‘Slut’.
Soroush’s son-in-law was also apparently tortured by Iranian authorities repeatedly for over a period of 10 months. The latter has been frequently experiencing nightmares ever since.
Soroush was prevented from delivering lectures by Iranian authorities due to his religious opinions. These radical authorities also went to the extent of confiscating his passport.