Sacralising Bodies: On Martyrdom, Government and Accident in Iran

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In post-revolution Iran, the sacred notion of martyrdom has been transformed into a routine act of government – a moral sign of order and state sovereignty. Moving beyond the debates of the secularisation of the sacred and the making sacred of the secular, this article argues that the moment of sacralisation is realised through co-production within a social setting when the object of sacralisation is recognised as such by others. In contemporary Iran, however, the moment of sacralising bodies by the state is also the moment of its own subversion as the political-theological field of martyrdom is contested and challenged from within. This article traces the genealogy of martyrdom in contemporary Iran in order to explore its institutionalised forms and governmental practices. During the revolution, the Shi'a tradition of martyrdom and its dramatic performances of ritual mourning and self-sacrifice became central to the mass mobilisation against the monarchy. Once the revolutionary government came into existence, this sacred tradition was regulated to create ‘martyrs’ as a fixed category, in order to consolidate the legacy of the revolution. In this political theatre, the dead body is a site of transformation and performance upon which the original narrative of martyrdom takes place even as it displaces it and gives new meanings to the act.
TidsskriftJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Vol/bind20 Third Series
Udgave nummer3
Sider (fra-til)441-460
Antal sider20
StatusUdgivet - okt. 2010

ID: 19206331