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From Kulturarbeit to Gharbzadegi: A Genealogy of German Ideological Interaction with Iranian Nationalism


This dissertation uncovers a variety of mutually beneficial reasons for Germany’s interactions with Iran. A genealogical study starting with Germany’s efforts as part of World War One, traces a long lineage of cultural work (Kulturarbeit), and cultural transfer (Kulturtransfer), which unfolded throughout parts of the twentieth century. A German sponsored Persian-Committee was created in Berlin to concretize the favorable reputation of Germany in Iran, in contrast to Great Britain and Russia’s imperialist ambitions as part of the Great Game. The power grab of the Nazis constituted an ideological highpoint in which a common Aryan identity was used by the Nazis to differentiate themselves racially from lower races. Iranians utilized a self-identification as Aryans, based on their pre-Islamic history, in order to create a renewed sense of historical importance.

Another ideological affinity between Iran and Germany can be traced to Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger’s experimental critique of modernity, which was adapted into an anti-Western ideology in the service of political Islam. Parts of their work, critical of a nihilistic West, was misappropriated by Iranian intellectuals of the 1960 and 70s into a critique of colonialism and the destructive consequences of Western imperialism to Iranian nationhood and culture. This led to the coining of the term Gharbzadegi, most often translated as Westoxification or Weststruckness to indicate an inauthentic relationship between Iran and its Western counters.

This study of the convergences of thought between Iranians and Germans reveals that they were as much rooted in geopolitical as in ideological preoccupations. The chapters of this dissertation review and analyze the historical roots of affinities between the two nations and their transformation from the beginning of the twentieth century to the decades before the Iranian revolution. If at different historical junctures Germans attempted to carve out a favorable cultural relationship with Iranians, Iranians in turn used and adapted German concepts in their own national self-configuration

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