50 Lectures for Understanding Iran

By Britney Wilkins

Now that President Obama has laid out plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, everyone’s waiting to see what Iran’s next move will be. The Middle Eastern country is acting like a tipping point for economic and political change, and the U.S. has much interest in its influence over other countries in the region in terms of oil production, the current election controversy, and more. In order to understand what comes next for Iran and the Middle East, check out these 50 lectures that will help you understand the country’s religious history, social culture, political traditions, and more.


These lectures on Iran and Islam shed light on the unique culture, history and political structure of the country.

  1. Islam and Constitutional Democracy in Iran: Said Amir Arjomand from SUNY Stony Brook explains how religion and politics are intertwined in Iran.
  2. Islamic Law and Feminism: Opening a Dialogue: Listen to this lecture to understand how feminism and Islam are sometimes at odds.
  3. Interpreting Islam: Politics, the Media and the Academy: Discover the multi-faceted nature of Islam.
  4. Islam and Modernity: The Problem with Paradise: Ziauddin Sardar reflects on how Islam and progress can be reconciled and what modernity means to Muslims.
  5. Islam and Modern Science: This lecture from MIT studies the relation between Islam and modern science.
  6. Radical Islam and the Western Media: How Accurate is the Portrayal?: This lecture challenges Westerners to be more critical when listening to media interpretations of Islam.
  7. Religious and Cultural Politics in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Read summaries of a lecture series from St. Antony’s College about religion’s place in Iran’s new society.
  8. Islamic Political Philosophy: Understand how all of these forces work together.
  9. Islam: A Truly American Religion?: Jane Smith addresses Middlebury College and considers how Muslims are immigrating to the U.S. and influencing its own religious culture.
  10. God, Nature or Man: Whose Law for a Free People? The Experience of Islam: This Princeton University lecture aims to clarify the ideologies of Islam.
  11. Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam: Learn more about religious extremists and their call to jihad.

Culture and Society

Persian culture has long influenced other societies around the world, and these lectures pay homage to Iran’s literature, music, and more.

  1. Iran Musical Culture in Central Asian Environment: Learn about Persian music and how it is a microcosm for a study of Iran’s geopolitical significance.
  2. In Search of the Secret of Survival: Reflections on the Khurasanian Cultural Resurgence: This lecture explains how this cultural group survived.
  3. The Origins of Literary Persian: Learn about Persia’s strong literary history when you read this lecture.
  4. Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Iran: Foreign correspondent Jonathan Lyons explores faith’s place in Iranian society.
  5. Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Dissent: Study the American tradition of freedom of expression and dissent, and then consider what it would be like to live in a society without those freedoms.
  6. Persian Influence on Literary and Sufi Traditions in South Asia: Consider how the Persian influence stretches from music to literature to politics and beyond.

History and Politics

Check out the lectures in this list for a review of Iran’s political history and its current policies.

  1. The Islamic Republic of Iran After 30 Years: Find out how the Iran revolution is affecting other nations in the Middle East.
  2. In Sickness and in Power: The last Shah of Iran is used as an example for studying how illness affects heads of government.
  3. Europe and the Middle East: Future Partners in a Free World?: This lecture from the American University in Cairo takes a look at the relationship dynamics between Europe and the Middle East.
  4. New Trends in Acheamenid History: Learn about this ancient Persian empire and its significance in Mediterranean history.
  5. The Current Crisis in the Middle East: Noam Chomsky discusses the Middle East conflict in 2006 at MIT.
  6. Is There an Ultimate Use for Historians? Reflections on Safavid History and Histriography: Consider why an understanding of history is relevant to mapping out the future.
  7. China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-imperial World: Learn more about the partnership of China and Iran.
  8. Iran: War or Peace?: In 2007, Kenneth Pollack speculated about the possibility of war between the U.S. and Iran.
  9. Power, Faith and Fantasy: History of the U.S. in the Middle East: Micael Oren, senior fellow at the Shalem Center, gives a crash course in the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
  10. Brokering Peace in the Middle East: Middle East ambassador Dennis Ross, along with the Boston Globe‘s former London Bureau Chief Kevin Cullen, discuss the history and political dynamics of the Middle Eastern conflict.
  11. How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies: Peter W. Galbraith looks at the failures and effects of going to war with Iraq.
  12. How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance: Yale law professor Amy Chua references the ancient Persian empire when discussing hyperpowers and the future of the U.S.
  13. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University: Read a transcript of Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s lecture to Columbia University from 2007.
  14. Is Democracy a Universal Value?: Listen to this talk as a way to question whether or not democracy could and should work for everyone.
  15. Obama’s War: Why We Are Stuck in Iraq: Consider the U.S. presence in the Middle East from another angle, and try to predict what’s next for the region in terms of policy and conflict.


Understand Iran’s economic significance when you read, watch or listen to these lectures.

  1. A Perspective on Iran’s Post-Revolution Political Economy: Jahangir Amuzegar lectures about Iran’s economic status after the revolution in 1979.
  2. Religion and the Market: Are They in Conflict?: By studying how religion and economics impact one another, you may have a better understanding of how Iran’s market operates.
  3. The Perfect Economic Storm: Ron Cooke credits Iran as "storm cell 3" in the perfect economic storm that is to come.
  4. The Rise of "The Axis of Oil" — Big Trouble for the United States: In 2006, Richard Bell includes Iran in the big fight for oil.

Global Relationships

This group of talks considers how Iranian politics and culture influence and are influenced by other countries like the U.S.

  1. The World’s Third Space: Neither Global Nor National: Saskia Sassen’s lecture considers the effects of globalization, including terrorism, politics and more.
  2. PW Singer on military robots and the future of war: Discover the future of technology’s impact on war, including how it will be used in Iraq and Iran.
  3. After Liberation: The Challenge of Iraq: Consider what could happen to Iran if the U.S. decided to send troops to Iran.
  4. U.S. Policy Toward the Middle East: Take a look at how the U.S. addresses countries in the Middle East.
  5. Noam Chomsky Lectures on Modern-Day American Imperialism: Middle East and Beyond: Noam Chomsky addresses a student group at Boston University and discusses the American influence over the Middle East.
  6. Challenges for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East: Hillary Clinton addresses Princeton University and discusses U.S. foreign policy.
  7. Islam and Open Societies: Emory professor Vincent Cornell discusses how Islam identifies itself in open societies.
  8. Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism: Discover how Iran was viewed by the Pentagon after September 11, 2001.


These lecturers aim to predict what’s next for Iran and the Middle East.

  1. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita predicts Iran’s future: Find out Bruce Bueno’s methodology and ideas on what Iran is going to do in the next few years.
  2. The Future of Iran: Ken Pollack from the Brookings Institution considers the future of Iran.
  3. The Future of Islam in the West: Discover how Islam is influencing Western culture.
  4. Iran: Grand Bargain, Grand Ambition: Ted Galen Carpenter from the Cato Institute discusses Iran’s "nuclear ambitions."
  5. Iran: We Will Know Soon: Richard Heinberg’s lecture ponders a potential conflict between Iran and the U.S.
  6. Iran: Another Puzzle Piece: Read this lecture to get a hypothesis on Iran’s defense strategies in the future.

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