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Mohsen Kadivar

Research Professor in the Department of Religious Studies
Religious Studies
403 Chapel Drive, 118 Gray Bldg., Box 90964, Durham, NC 27708
Room 216 Gray Building, Durham, NC 27708
Office hours By appointment  


Mohsen Kadivar is a research professor of Islamic Studies at the Department of Religious Studies. He has been at Duke since 2009. His primary interests span both classical and modern Islamic thought. His work is at the intersections of “Islamic Studies”, and the contemporary “History of Thought.”

Kadivar’s research and teachings (undergrad and grad) include Qur'anic Studies, and the Tradition of the Prophet; Islamic mysticism (Sufism) and Islamic ethics; Islamic philosophy and comparative medieval philosophy; Islamic theology (kalam), and comparative religious studies; Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), and the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh); Islam and politics, Islam and modernity, Islam and human rights, and Islam and Feminism; philosophy of religion, Islam and the meaning of life, the problem of evil, and religion and science; and History of Muslims in colonial and post-colonial eras.

Kadivar is an international public intellectual. The author of thirty books and dozens of scholarly articles in Persian, some of his books and articles have been translated into English, Arabic, and German, and a few of his articles have been translated into French, Turkish, Indonesian, Bosnian, and Kurdish.

He was interviewed on the well-known cultural show al-Muqabalah by Ali al-Zafiri on Aljazeera (the most-watched television in the Arab world) in August 2022 (1st episode, 2nd episode).

Two of Kadivar’s books were published in the Seriesin Translation: Modern Muslim Thinkers, (Edinburgh University Press, 2021).

The first book, Human Rights and Reformist Islam argues for the compatibility of human rights and Islam. It focuses on six controversial case studies: religious discrimination, gender discrimination, slavery, freedom of religion, punishment of apostasy, and arbitrary or harsh punishments. Kadivar’s approach is based on the rational classification of Islamic teachings as temporal or permanent, and four criteria of being Islamic: reasonableness, justice, morality, and efficiency.

The second book,Blasphemy and Apostasy in Islam: Debates in Shi’a Jurisprudence begins with a genealogy of religious freedom in contemporary Islam and argues that there is no reliable proof from the Qur’an, Sunna, consensus, and reason that can establish the validity of executing anyone accused of apostasy or blaspheming the Prophet. On the contrary, such actions violate both the Qur’an and human reason.

In his third book, Governance by Guardianship: Rule and Government in the Islamic Republic of Iran (forthcoming by Cambridge University Press), Kadivar argues jurisprudentially that this political theory is baseless in Islamic thought. 

The Illusion of Islamic Theocracy: The Transformation of Shi’ite Political Thought in the Islamic Republic of Iran (forthcoming by UNC Press) is a critical analysis of the political theology of Shi’i Islam in post-revolutionary Iran in particular, and the political Islam and Islamic politics in general.

His criticism of the authoritarianism and so-called Islamic theocracy in Iran led to his imprisonment (1999-2000), the banning of all his publications, and finally his exile from Iran in 2008.

He was a visiting Scholar in the Islamic Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School (2002); a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Virginia (2008-2009); and a Nannerl O. Keohane Distinguished Visiting Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill (2014). Kadivar was a Global Ethics Fellow in the Carnegie Council (2012-2014), a research fellow withWissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin (2017), and a fellow of the National Humanities Center (NHC) at Research Triangle Park, North Carolina (2019-2020).

His most recent research is “Islam and the Meaning of Life”.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Research Professor in the Department of Religious Studies · 2015 - Present Religious Studies, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Education, Training & Certifications

Tarbiat Modares University (Iran) · 1999 Ph.D.
University of Qom (Iran) · 1993 M.A.
University of Qom (Iran) · 1989 B.A.