Nura Hossainzadeh

Email Address:
Office Location: 
7 Dillon Court East


I am a Lecturer specializing in modern Iran and, in particular, Iranian political thought. My interest in this topic can be traced to my undergraduate years at Harvard, where, as a Government major, I developed an interest in political theory. At Harvard, I focused on studying the canon of political theory—which begins in ancient Greece and ends in contemporary Europe and the US—but became curious about political thinkers not included in the canon. After graduating in 2006, I moved to Qom, Iran, enrolling in an all-female Islamic seminary, Jami’at Al-Zahra, and taking courses in Islamic theology, law, and history, as well as courses on topics closer to my interests, on Islamic political thought and the Iranian revolution. From Qom, I moved to Berkeley, where I pursued a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley’s Department of Political Science, planning to continue my study of the canon of political thought but also venture into a deeper study of Islamic political thought. My dissertation, which I finished in the summer of 2016, was on the political thought of an individual who was both a scholar of Islam and the leader of an Islamic government: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

My current book project is the first comprehensive study of Khomeini’s political theory. It includes an exploration of the full corpus of his political works, from the yet-to-be translated Unveiling of Secrets, written in 1943, to the more well-known Islamic Government, written in 1970, to his many speeches and statements after the Revolution as the new government was developing, to his final will and testament. Through a close study of all of these texts, the book argues, against much of the secondary literature, that Khomeini did not grant the Islamic jurisprudent unconditioned and comprehensive authority but instead writes within the Islamic constitutionalist tradition. As a constitutionalist, Khomeini held that ordinary citizens must express their consent to the jurisprudent’s authority and convene a parliament that legislates in conformity with the shari’a. In addition, Khomeini drew on the Usuli legal tradition to argue that the law acquired authority through its principles, making the democratic argument that ordinary people could comprehend the principles of the law and then draw upon these principles and their knowledge of social circumstances to supplement, and even suspend, the shari’a. In this discussion of Khomeini’s conception of law, the book discusses how debates in Iran over the nature of the law both overlap with and contribute new insight to similar debates in the American context over methods of constitutional interpretation. Though Khomeini ultimately gave jurisprudents in government final authority to rule upon the legitimacy of the law, Khomeini articulated constitutionalist, democratic, and legal concepts that may—and have been—utilized and elaborated by contemporary scholars and politicians to theorize Islamic versions of democracy using principles derived from Islamic traditions of thought.

While pursuing my research on Khomeini, I have taught a variety of courses on topics as diverse as American politics and government, Middle East politics, Arab political thought, canonical political theory, and legal theory. At Georgetown, I taught a seminar entitled “Comparative Political Theory,” a course that integrates the Western canon with seminal political theoretical texts in diverse traditions, including Confucian, Hindu, and Islamic. At Princeton, I teach courses on modern Iran and the Middle East, including “Liberalism, Democracy and Iranian Political Thought,” “Modern Iran,” “Feminist Political Theory: Iran and the West,” and “Islam and Government in Iran and Saudi Arabia.”


Publications List: 


Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles:

“Democratic and Constitutionalist Elements in Khomeini’s Unveiling of Secrets and Islamic Government,” Journal of Political Ideologies 21:1 (2016).


“Ruhollah Khomeini’s Political Thought: Elements of Guardianship, Consent, and Representative Government,” Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies 7:2 (2014).


Book Chapter:

“Michel Foucault and Ali Shari’ati on Shi’ite ‘Political Spirituality’,” in Creolizing Shari’ati, edited by Max Hantel, Rowan and Littlefield, 2018. (Forthcoming).


Conference Proceeding:

“Political Thought in Contemporary Iran: Ayatollah Javadi Amoli’s Theory of Guardianship,” In Proceedings from Afro-Middle East Centre Conference, “Political Islam: Conceptualising Power between Islamic States and Muslim Social Movements,” January 2015; Pretoria, South Africa. (Spring 2016).