Middle East Briefs

Parallel to the Center’s scholarly work, Middle East Briefs provides a brief analysis of a single issue at the top of the region’s political, social, or economic agenda. Targeted primarily at decision-makers and opinion leaders, the publication was launched in 2005.

Latest Brief

February 2024 – Order and Disorder: The Politics of Seminaries in Iran

Mohammad Ataie

Middle East Brief 157 (Summary) — Eliminating dissent among clerics and extending state control over Shiʿi seminaries has been pursued vigorously over the past three decades by the Islamic Republic. Yet, clerical factionalism remains a significant feature of Iranian politics. Why has the Islamic Republic been unable to reign in the clergy and its seminaries? In our latest Middle East Brief, Mohammad Ataie argues that the Islamic Republic has been hindered by the multiple sources of authority within the Shiʿi seminaries, as well as opposition from the clerical establishment. Rather than subduing the clergy and bringing seminaries under its control, the state’s efforts have had the opposite effect: exacerbating divisions within the clerical establishment and bolstering the resolve — on the part of not only reformist clerics but conservative ones as well — to voice their opposition to the state’s interference. Ataie concludes by analyzing the implications of these developments on clerical reactions to the "Woman, Life Freedom" movement.


Mohammad Ataie is a lecturer in History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was a junior research fellow at the Crown Center from 2020-2023.