Lolita in Tehran: Women, Religion and Global Politics”
February 5, 7:00pm
College of Law Great Hall
Cultural repression is a major concern these days, particularly
in the minds of women. Azar Nafisi is living proof.
The fact that she has a book currently climbing the bestseller
lists - it was number thirteen on the New York Times list last
week, and number five this week - shows that Nafisi is hitting
a major vein, but what vein it is is less easy to describe. She
is not really a political activist or social critic, though her
writing has important political and social implications. She is
not a scholar of Islam, though she is a prominent commentator on
contemporary issues involving that religion. She is not a feminist,
though her concerns are often largely with women’s issues
and women’s rights. She is not predominantly a literary scholar
or critic, though that is what her professional training is in.
Or perhaps she is all of these things combined – an intellectual
combination that is far more than the sum of its parts. Her real
subject is intellectual freedom, and, like many great public intellectuals,
she needs to be experienced, rather than defined.
Nafisi, the author of the current nonfiction hit, Reading Lolita
in Tehran, is the first speaker this spring in the Arizona State
University Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict’s “Alternative
Visions” lecture series. Nafisi will give a free public lecture
entitled “Reading Lolita in Tehran: Women, Religion and Global
Politics” at 7:00 p.m. February 5 in the College of Law Great
Hall. A book-signing will follow. Though the event is free, tickets
Reading Lolita in Tehran is, in part, a memoir focused around
Nafisi’s experience in the mid-1990’s of leading a
small group of Iranian women in reading and discussing classic
works of English and American literature - works which were forbidden
and considered decadent by the government. Canadian novelist Margaret
Atwood describes the book: “Reading Lolita needs a category
all its own. ‘An approach to the serious reading of mostly
modern Western classics under a fundamentalist Muslim dictatorship,
with hanging, shooting and bombing complications’ might be
Nafisi’s personal history and professional background leads
to the story behind the book. A member of a well-to-do Iranian
family, she was educated in America and was studying English literature
at the University of Oklahoma when the Shah was overthrown. As
a professor of aesthetics, culture and literature, Nafisi held
a fellowship at Oxford University conducting a series of lectures
on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture
in Iran after the 1979 revolution. She then taught at the University
of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabaii,
earning national respect and international recognition for advocating
on behalf of Iran’s intellectuals, youth and especially young
women. She was expelled from the University of Tehran for refusing
to wear the mandatory Islamic veil in 1981, and did not resume
teaching until 1987.
Nafisi conducted workshops in Iran for women students on the relationship
between culture and human rights and from this experience developed
a new curricula for human rights education. She is currently a
visiting fellow, professional lecturer and the director of The
Dialogue Project: the Culture of Democracy in Muslim Societies
at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s
School of Advanced International Studies.
She has lectured and written extensively on the political implications
of literature and culture. She has also written on the human rights
of Iranian women and the important role they play in working towards
pluralism and an open society in Iran and other Muslim cultures.
Because of her acknowledged expertise in the area, Nafisi has been
frequently consulted with on issues related to Iran and human rights
in general by policy makers and various human rights organizations.
Her writings include Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir
Nabokov’s Novels and a number of essays concerning fundamentalism
and the rights of women. Nafisi’s op-eds and other articles
have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post,
The New Republic and the Wall Street Journal, and her New Republic
cover story, “The Veiled Threat: The Iranian Revolution’s
Woman Problem” has been reprinted in several languages.
The 2003-2004 lecture series will conclude with “When Religion
Becomes Evil,” a lecture by CNN commentator, government policy
advisor and Wake Forest University Religious Studies Professor
Charles Kimball on March 25.
Seating at the lecture is limited and tickets are required. Call
480-727-6736 to reserve seats. (For those unable to attend the
lecture, Nafisi will be doing a reading and a second book-signing
at noon the following day at Changing Hands Bookstore, Guadalupe
and McClintock Dr. in Tempe.) Free audience parking is available
in ASU Lot 40, located on Lemon St., between Rural Rd. and McAllister.
For more information on the lecture or on the ASU Center for the
Study of Religion and Conflict, visit the website <http://www.asu.edu/csrc> or