Thinking Freely: Iranian Scholar Kioumars Ghereghlou Finds Refuge at The New School

Protests against Iran's contested 2009 election drew the world's attention to suppression of free thought that drove Kioumars Ghereghlou from the country. Photo by Milad Avazbeigi via Wikicommons

You’re just a little screw in the system. If you don’t work properly within the system, we will be the first ones who remove you and crush you.,

In October 2008, an Iranian intelligence agent gave this warning to Professor Kioumars Ghereghlou. One of Iran’s most promising young scholars of Persian history, Ghereghlou had been teaching and conducting research at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, in northeastern Iran. And although he was guilty only of privately expressing disagreement with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ghereghlou’s area of scholarship, the socio-religious history of early modern and modern Iran, attracted the attention of the authorities to him as a danger to the Islamic Republic.

As the political tension in Iran increased during the lead-up to 2009’s election, so did pressure on academics like Kioumars Ghereghlou. By winter 2008, Ghereghlou had been, for all intents and purposes, professionally erased: His university unceremoniously removed his name from their list of faculty, and his contract was terminated. When he tried to contest these actions, the university administration told him that a private investigation had found him unqualified ideologically, to teach.

In February 2009, Ghereghlou and his family arrived from Iran in New York city on a grant from Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF)through which he was in residence at NYU as a research fellow for one year. Then he found out about The New School.

SRF was eager to find a second-year placement for Ghereghlou, and thought The New School for Social Research might be the right place. To that end, Jim Miller, executive director of SRF, met with Arien Mack, Alfred and Monette Marrow Professor of Psychology and director of The New School’s Endangered Scholars Worldwide (ESW) initiative. It seemed like the right fit, and SRF arranged for Ghereghlou to meet with New School faculty.

Endangered Scholars Worldwide has taken a consistently strong stand against repression of free inquiry in Iran, and we were very glad to have the opportunity to offer Dr. Ghereghlou a safe place in which to do his work,, said Professor Mack.

Ghereghlou has now found a home at The New School for Social Research as the second University in Exile Scholar in Residence under the auspices of ESW. When I interviewed with people from The New School,, he said,, I found that our viewpoints were very much aligned. That was the start of my connection with the university.,

As ESW’s 2010’2011 fellow, Ghereghlou joins a long line of persecuted intellectuals who have found refuge at The New School for Social Research. The school’s graduate faculty traces its roots back to the 1933 founding of the University in Exile, which was created to provide an institutional home to Jewish academics threatened by the rise of fascism in Europe, including leading thinkers like Hans Speier, Claude L√©vi-Strauss, and Max Wertheimer. This legacy has been kept alive not only in the ESW but in the activities of the Center for Public Scholarship, which administers the program. Founded this year and directed by Arien Mack,the center embraces projects promoting academic freedom around the world, including the journal Social Research, the Social Research conference series, the Journal Donation Project, among other activities.

Since arriving at The New School, Ghereghlou has continued his work on Iranian history with institutional support, academic resources, housing assistance, and visa sponsorship from the university. Ghereghlou has also met with students at The New School for Social Research to speak about the history of religion in Iran, a topic on which he will lecture in a graduate-level course next semester.

The experience at The New School for Social Research so far has been great,, he says. It’s great to be able to have a place to do my research, a place to read, to write, and to do it freely.,