Join Active Minds for an in-depth look at the country of Iran. We will discuss the thorny issue of Iran's nuclear program, the relationship between Iran’s religious and political leadership, and challenges presented by regional turmoil. In particular, we will discuss how the rest of the world is responding to the various challenges presented by Iran.

Key Lecture Points

  • As the major Shi’a Muslim power in the Middle East, Iran plays a significant role in the region, particularly as it relates to escalation of violence along sectarian lines. Iran has been a supporter of Shi’a populations (and leaders and forces) in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Sunni powers in the Middle East, notably Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have pushed back against Iranian influence in these areas.
  • The nation of Iran is the present-day legacy of the Persian Empire. As such, Iran has a deep, rich, and lengthy history, marked by a flourishing culture, but also by points of conflict. Religiously, Persia was the seat of the Zoroastrianism, beginning around 1500BCE until the widespread conversion to Islam in the 7th Century. Persia was converted to Shi’a Islam in 1500 during the Safavid Empire.
  • Oil was discovered in Iran in the early 1900s, bringing Western interests to the country. During WWI and WWII, Iran was occupied by the Allies. Iran and oil politics were at the forefront of the Cold War in the Middle East during the post-war period.
  • In 1952, the US and UK interfered in Iran’s parliamentary elections by financing pro-Shah candidates and paying protesters resulting in the overthrow of freely elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in a 1953 coup as he intended to nationalize the Iranian oil industry.
  • In 1979 the US-supported Shah of Iran fled, and revolution broke out, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who proclaimed the new Islamic Republic. The US embassy was seized in Tehran and the US broke diplomatic relations with Iran. Iranian-US relations have been strained ever since.
  • Since a 1968 decision to develop a peaceful nuclear program through the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) with US support in 1968, Iran has gone back and forth about its determination and capability to develop nuclear weapons. After years of negotiations, in 2015 the US, the UK, Russia, France, China and Germany reached a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions and the release of frozen assets.
  • In 2018, President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement while his defense advisors proclaimed Iran the most dangerous force in the Middle East. Since 2020, President Biden has endeavored to craft a new deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons with negotiations currently at a standstill.
  • Since 2009, Iran has seen increasing popular protests against the regime, the most significant taking place in 2022 after the death in custody of Masha Amini for allegedly improperly wearing a hijab, a scarf intended to cover a woman’s hair.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the likely outcome of the current Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia for control of the Middle East?
  • What is the likely outcome of the mounting protests in Iran against the regime?
  • Have you ever traveled to Iran? If so, describe what the country was like at that point and how it appears different today.
  • What do you think it would mean to your daily way of life to live in a theocracy?
  • Do you think the nuclear deal was a good decision for the US? Why or why not?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Majd, Hooman. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You Not to Stay: An American Family in Iran.  Anchor Books, 2014. 272 pages.  Majd is a journalist and the son of a diplomat under the Shah and a grandson of an ayatollah.  In 2011 he returned to Tehran with his family to live for a year—the first time he had lived in his homeland since he was a boy.  He describes his family’s life in Tehran during a tumultuous year in Iranian politics.
    Click here to order
  • Axworthy, Michael. A History of Iran:  Empire of the Mind. Basic Books, 2016. 384 pages. 9780465098767.  This book describes the complexities of Iranian history from the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE to the present.
  • Axworthy, Michael.  A History of Iran:  Empire of the Mind.  Basic Books, 2016. 384 pages.  This book describes the complexities of Iranian history from the Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BCE to the present.
    Click here to order