In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Political Development of Iran

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Materials
  • Journals
  • The End of the Qajars and the Constitutional Revolution
  • Modernization and Absolutism (Reza Shah, 1914–1941)
  • Nationalism, Mohammad Mossadeq, and the 1953 Coup
  • Royal Dictatorship (Mohammad Reza Shah, 1953–1979)
  • The 1979 Revolution
  • The Iran-Iraq War
  • Reform and the Crisis of State Shiʿism
  • Political Economy
  • Foreign Relations
  • Modern Iranian Political and Intellectual Movements
  • Gender and Politics
  • Prospects for Democracy

Political Science Political Development of Iran
Huss Banai
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0035


Iran’s political development has undergone momentous changes over the past century: the advent of constitutionalism in 1906–1911; the period of absolutist rule and stealth modernization under two Pahlavi monarchs; the brief period of parliamentary democracy under the premiership of Mohammad Mossadeq; the Islamic revolution in 1979 with its attendant conservative, pragmatic, reformist, neoconservative, and neopragmatist incarnations. During each of these periods, Iranian society and politics underwent significant transformations that were often imposed from above. These changes were also compounded by the fact that Iran has historically occupied an important geopolitical position in international politics, a pawn in, and an irritant to, the great powers at the heart of the oil-rich Middle East. The diverse sources compiled in this article explore different dimensions of Iran’s political development over the past century. All of the sources are in English and most are works by highly respected scholars of Iran both inside and outside of the country.

General Overviews

Many general overviews and historical guides of Iran as a country and as an ancient civilization are available, but not many are solely devoted to the political development of Iran. The following selections showcase the most respected and widely cited works dealing with the political history of Iran. The Cambridge History of Iran series (Avery, et al. 1968–1991) along with Frye 1984 and Amanat 2018 together offer a highly readable survey of Persian culture and politics across two and a half millennia of history, while Amir Arjomand 1984 elaborates on the intricate linkages between religion and politics in Iran. A good overview of modern political developments in Iran is Keddie 2006, which traces the origins of the 1979 revolution through the complex history of the 19th and 20th centuries in Iran. Lastly, the account in Mottahedeh 1985 of the intricate linkages among religion, tradition, and politics in post-revolutionary Iran is a masterful narrative of some of the most interesting and vexing dynamics and contradictions in modern Iranian society.

  • Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511984402

    An authoritative overview of Iranian political history and development from the eclipse of the Qajar dynasty to the failure of the reform movement under the Islamic Republic. An especially useful guide to 20th-century Iranian politics and society.

  • Amanat, Abbas. Iran: A Modern History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018.

    A magisterial political history of Iran spanning more than 500 years of continuity and change, from the dawn of the Safavid Empire to society and culture under the Islamic Republic. A comprehensive, yet accessible, guide to any serious consideration of modern Iranian society and politics.

  • Amir Arjomand, Said. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Iran from the Beginning to 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

    Reissued in 2010, this volume offers a comprehensive sociological and historical study of Shiʿism and politics of premodern Iran, with the aim of revealing the ideological foundations of the Islamic Republic.

  • Avery, Peter, J. A. Boyle, W. B. Fisher, et al., eds. The Cambridge History of Iran. Vols. 1–7. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1968–1991.

    An authoritative reference guide to Iran’s history, culture, politics, and economy, from the Medes to the Islamic Republic.

  • Daryaee, Touraj, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Iranian History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    The most recent, comprehensive single-volume history of Iranian civilization. The authors, all leaders in their fields, emphasize the large-scale continuities of Iranian history while also describing the important patterns of transformation that have characterized Iran’s past. Each of the chapters focuses on a specific epoch of Iranian history and surveys the general political, social, cultural, and economic issues of that era.

  • Frye, Richard N. The History of Ancient Iran. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1984.

    Spanning a millennium and a half of ancient Persian history, this book offers an excellent introduction to the cultural and political lineages of Iranians.

  • Katouzian, Homa. The Persians: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Iran. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

    Provides a sweeping narrative account of Iran’s cultural and political development from ancient times to today, from a distinctly Iranian (as opposed to European) perspective.

  • Keddie, Nikki R. Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

    An authoritative account of 20th-century Iranian politics as it culminated in the Islamic revolution in 1979. Also a great examination of the role of religion in society from the 1800s to today.

  • Mottahedeh, Roy. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran. New York: Pantheon, 1985.

    An insightful look at the everyday interplay of politics, culture, and religion in Iran, as told through the life of a young cleric.

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