After Iran's 1979 revolution, the energies that had animated the struggle for a modern Islamic government were partially redirected to the task of the renewal of the Islamic tradition. Paradigmatic of this effort is “the Cultural Revolution” that has sought to combat what Islamic activists perceive as the destructive effects of Western culture and to align the production of knowledge with the teachings of Shi'i Islam. The effort to produce modern Islamic knowledge, however, has paradoxically intensified the translation of European thought and invested it with the ethos of seminary education. Drawing on a long-term engagement with postrevolutionary Iranian intellectuals, including fieldwork in Tehran and Qom, this article offers a historical and anthropological exploration of the interrelated questions of tradition, transmission, and translation. It is ethnographically centered in a seminar in which seminarian-academics translate Carl Schmitt, among others, to make sense of, and intervene in, Islamic politics. It highlights how European concepts and forms of thought come to mediate the relation between seminarian-academics and the Islamic tradition, its forms of knowledge, and its modern politics and argues that the elision of the historical incommensurability of European discourses renders the enacted tradition foreign to itself.

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