By Kāvaśajī Dīnaśāhajī Kiash

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Established patterns of local self-sufficiency and familial organisation, like absentee landlordism and merchant entrepreneurship, continued to be important in the collective experience of many Iranians, and their positions in existing hierarchies of dependency and exploitation. For the 70 per cent of Iranians who were rural cultivators and the 13–15 per cent who were artisans or traders, continuity in these areas was a key feature of their experience. The ‘religious’ and the ‘social’ This said, some significant changes can be recognised.

It was in the period from the 1950s that these settings experienced significant transformation with significant implications for the cultural experience of groups and individuals. New material circumstances reconfigured the resources and autonomy of communities and their involvement in productive labour, consumption and exchange. New cultural resources became available for the development of individual and shared versions of self, group and other. Both cultural resources and material circumstances were shaped by the influences of state power and of links to a wider world, which grew during the twentieth century and emerged most powerfully after the 1939–45 war.

Participation by different groups in the rituals of such sects was the active expression of commitment to particular traditions, paralleling material support for Sufi pirs, leaders like the Isma’ili Aqa Khan, or Kurdish shaykhs. Ceremonies associated with local saints, shrines or sects, like the use of amulets and divination, involved the commitment and creativity of ordinary believers as well as mullas or religious leaders, and were often undertaken independently of the latter. 28 It followed that active sanctity and piety were recognised and associated with Iranians who were not formally trained ‘ulama, but gained respect and authority among those who knew them.

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