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History of Contemporary Iran


Admission requirements



If we want to understand the predicaments of Iran faces today, both domestically and internationally, we have to place these in their historical context. For example, the 2015 nuclear deal can only be fully understood in the context of Iran-US relations since well before the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979; the election of Rouhani in 2013 can only be understood in the context of the consolidation of Islamic Republican Party’s power in the early 1980s; the 1979 Revolution cannot be explained without also discussing the 1953 coup; and none of these socio-political development makes sense without reference to Iran’s historical interaction with imperialism throughout the 19th and 20th century. That is why this course takes students on a journey back in time, starting with the socio-political challenges which Iran faces today, and tracing them back to their historical roots. Topics includes the nuclear issue, Iran’s interaction with the region, factionalism in Iranian politics, the importance of Khomeini, the Iran-Iraq War, the hostage crisis, the causes of and developments in the 1979 Revolution, the figure of Mohammad Reza Shah, the White Revolution, the 1953 coup d’etat, the origins and characteristics of the Pahlavi dynasty, the Tobacco Revolt and the Constitutional Revolution. The end of every lecture highlights a number of elements which require further historical contextualization, on which subsequent lectures then build.

Course objectives

The aim of this course is to offer student an overview of developments in contemporary Iran, by placing them in their historical, political and religious contexts.


Timetable BA MOS

Mode of instruction

Attendance is not obligatory for lectures. The conveners do not need to be informed in case of missed classes. Information and knowledge provided in the lectures greatly contribute to the subsequent courses of the programme. In order to pass the course, students are strongly advised to attend all sessions.

Course Load

Lectures: 13 × 2 = 26 hrs

  • Preparation: 40 hrs

  • Exams (midterm and final): 4 hrs

  • Preparation exams: 70 hrs

Assessment method


Written examination with essay questions


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the midterm (40%) and final exam (60%).
The course is an integrated whole and must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years,


There is only one resit opportunity which will make up 100% of the mark.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.


Blackboard will be used in this course to share course information, documentation and to communicate with the participants.

Reading list

The course readings are available in the University’s main library in Course Reserves. Materials unavailable in the library will be provided by the instructor.

Required Readings
We recommend you to purchase the following book:

  • Ervand Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
    The electronic version of this book is also available at Library Catalogue.

  • Further reading will be announced or distributed via Blackboard.


uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Studeren à la carte

Registration Contractonderwijs


Dr. S. Shahnahpur


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).