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Towards the Ideal Revolutionary Shi’i Woman: The Howzevi (Seminarian), the Requisites of Marriage and Islamic Education in Iran

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The ethnographic fieldwork I conducted in Iran reveals how some religious conservative howzevi (seminarian) women understand marriage and motherhood as constitutive of idealized womanhood. For them, the pursuit of marriage and motherhood simultaneously enables their participation in the highest levels of Islamic education and their religious and political authority in Iran. Such aspirations imposed both regulatory and emancipatory effects on the howzevi’s life. Two self-imposed practices I observed from women were the practice of asking permission from the husband, and having the desire to marry a man whom she expected would want to be asked for permission. I underline the hidden yet enabling aspects of these practices. I show what a system of mutual exchange of responsibilities between nafaqeh (full financial provision) and eta’at (obedience) look like as features of a howzevi marriage. I argue that it was precisely the howzevi’s observances of this mutual exchange and other constraints that facilitated her educational, social and political mobility.

Affiliations: 1: Middle East and North African Studies, Northwestern


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