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CREES Noon Lecture. From the ‘Imam of Atheism’ to ‘Orthodox Iran’: Russia and Shi’a Islamist Movements, 1970s-Present.

Timothy Nunan, professor of Transregional Cultures of Knowledge, Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies, University of Regensburg
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
12:00-1:20 PM
Room 555 Weiser Hall Map
Since Russia’s intervention into Syria in 2015, Russia’s close ties with the al-Assad regime in Syria, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Shi’a militias like Hezbollah have become ever more prominent. Tehran has become one of main suppliers of drones to Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine, and high officials within the Russian Orthodox Church have even spoken of ideological affinity with the Shi’a theocracy in Tehran, speaking of the need to transform the Russian Federation into an “Orthodox Iran.” Where did these unlikely ties between Russia and transnational Shi’a networks emerge? How did Russian actors come to see themselves as aligned with Shi’a actors, and how did the latter go from seeing in the Soviet Union “the Imam of atheism” to a potential partner against American imperialism?

In this lecture, Timothy Nunan (University of Regensburg) will explore how this alliance of convenience between Moscow, Tehran and Damascus emerged out of the Cold War geopolitics of the 1970s and 1980s. Drawing on new sources in Russian, Persian, and Arabic, Nunan will explore how an unlikely group of actors, from Syrian generals to Lebanese Shi'a clerics to Soviet Central Asian Sunni clerics, set aside Cold War clichés about Islam and Communism to sew the seeds for what is today an expanded "Axis of Resistance."

Timothy Nunan is Professor for Transregional Cultures of Knowledge in the Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies at the University of Regensburg. Prior to holding this position, he was Acting Chair in the Department of Global History at the Free University of Berlin. There, he also led a Volkswagen Foundation Freigeist Research Group devoted to the history of Islamism during the Cold War. His research focuses on international history, Russian and Soviet history, and the history of the modern Middle East. His first book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, examined the history of international development in Afghanistan during the Cold War, looking in particular at the role of the Soviet Union and Western humanitarian NGOs. His current book project explores Islamist internationalism from the 1950s to the 1980s. Prior to his positions in Germany, Dr. Nunan was a Harvard Academy Scholar and received his D.Phil. in History from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

WCEE is pleased to host Professor Nunan as part of its collaboration with the Leibniz ScienceCampus at the University of Regensburg.

If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us at Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange.
Building: Weiser Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: International, russia
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies, Department of Middle East Studies, International Institute, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia