Dr Ali Mozaffari will present a keynote address entitled 'Cultural heritage in Iran: the dialectics of continuity and sudden change' at the CAIS Three Languages - Three Cultures: Narratives from the Middle East Conference
The Middle East is an enigma, fascinating yet unpredictable; it is at once the hub of the world’s energy; the cradle of civilisations, a tapestry of ethno-linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity that has endowed the region with the historical potential for tolerance and appreciation of diversity and difference. Ironically, the same characteristics seem to have harboured politically violent ideologies that tend to descend various parts of the region into destructive wars and have instigated various refugee crises at a global scale. In light of sudden historical shifts that characterise this region, both the prevalent violence and the less-publicised diversity and tolerance are part of historical and cultural processes involved in making, transforming, and re-imagining collective identities. Here, sudden change produces new identities and with them, new relationships between the past and the present through a cultural process that we know as heritage. Looking at the historical background of the region and Iran, one might venture to suggest that there is a dialectical relationship between historical and cultural diversity in this region and sudden and unpredictable change — recurring volatilities — in which it is mired.
Approaching Iranian national heritage from this angle, this lecture shows that at each historical juncture, from the formation of the modern nation-state to the present, there has been a close relationship between abrupt historical change and the making of national heritage. Heritage is transformed and re-imagined in response to sudden change, but it also contributed to change while at the same time fostering a sense of cultural stability. This process is not unique to Iran and may be found in other Middle Eastern societies. From this perspective, volatility appears to have a cultural function that is hitherto under-explored. As volatility challenges people’s relationship to their pasts and their identities, it results in the mobilisation of cultural heritage in different and contradictory ways. Referring to examples of cultural heritage from Iran, this lecture illustrates that some of the most iconic examples of Iranian cultural heritage, those that seem to suggest a reassuring historical continuity in the present, are products of social and historical volatilities in the country. Here, heritage seems to suggest the desire and even potential for cultural stabilisation.