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Mohsen Kadivar, Research Professor

Mohsen Kadivar

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 Series in 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”.

Contact Info: 
Office Location:  Room 216 Gray Building, Durham, NC 27708
Office Phone:  +1 919 660 3521
Email Address: send me a message
Web Page:

Teaching (Fall 2024):

  • RELIGION 160.01, ISLAM Synopsis
    Allen 226, TuTh 04:40 PM-05:55 PM
    (also cross-listed as AMES 160.01, ICS 160.01)
    Divinity 319, W 04:40 PM-07:10 PM
Office Hours:

By appointment

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

Research Interests: Modern Qur’anic Studies, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Islamic Legal & Ethical Theories, Islamic Political Thought, Human Rights and Democracy in Islam, Classical and Modern Shi’a Theology


Ethics • History • Islam • Law • Philosophy • Political science • Religion

Curriculum Vitae
Recent Publications   (More Publications)

  1. Kadivar, M, The illusion of Islamic Theocracy: The Transformation of Shi’ite Political Thought in the Islamic Republic of Iran (December, 2023), The University of North Carolina Press  [abs]
  2. The Institution of Marriage in Islam: A Case Study of the First Pillar of the Marriage Contract, in Islam and the Institution of Marriage: Legal and Sociological Approaches, edited by Lemons, K; Rooij, LD (November, 2023), pp. 35-53, AMI Press, ISBN 9781915550033  [abs]
  3. An Analysis of Shi’ite Political Thought, in The Hawza and the State: The Shiite Islam, Question of Authority, Women and Geopolitics, edited by Al-Taie, AM (November, 2023), pp. 3-38, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung - Amman office, ISBN 978-9923-759-43-1  [abs]
  4. Kadivar, M, The Punishment of Apostasy and the Freedom of Thought: Criticism of the punishment for apostasy and blasphemy according to the standards of demonstrative jurisprudence (Hadd al-Ridda wa Hurriyya al-‘Aqida: Naqd uqubat al-irtidad wa sabb al-nabi tibqan li-mawazn al-fiqh al-istidlali), vol. 1 (October, 2023), pp. 464 pages, Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies, ISBN 978-614-445-546-3 (translated by Al-Sarraf, H; Dakhil Karim, H; Munir, M.)  [abs]
  5. Kadivar, M, Islam and the State from a Shi'ite Perspective, in Secularism in Comparative Perspective — Religion across Political Contexts, edited by Laurence, J, vol. 23 (2023), pp. 57-80, Springer, ISBN 978-3-031-13309-1 [doi]  [abs]

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