The Politics of Culture in Times of Rapprochement


The Politics of Culture in Times of Rapprochement: European Cultural and Academic Exchange with Iran (2015-16)

Ali Fathollah-Nejad

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

The Politics of Culture in Times of Rapprochement: European Cultural and Academic Exchange with Iran (2015-16) is a prod­uct of the author’s 2015/16 role as Expert in the Research Program “Culture and Foreign Policy” at the Institute for International Cultural Relations (ifa) in Stuttgart, Germany. The study’s policy recommendations were first published in the Iran-Reader 2017 of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS), republished and translated into Arabic by the Brookings Doha Center. See also an interview with the author on the study’s preliminary findings: Dorothea Grassmann (Institute for International Cultural Relations, ifa), “Cultural Rapprochement with Iran: Laden with Promise,” Dialogue with the Islamic World, April 4, 2016. 

The 2015 nuclear deal marked the beginning of a new chapter in relations between Europe and Iran. However, a qualitative and lasting improvement in relations between the two nations will fundamentally depend on other socially relevant sectors. Bearing this in mind, cultural policy in the wider sense will play a key role, since it is indispensable for a rapprochement. This study aims to make a contribution in this area by exploring options for the revitalisation of cultural relations on various levels, taking as its starting point a comprehensive review of those relations. The study focuses on opportunities as well as challenges in European–Iranian cultural relations in the following three fields: (i) art, literature, theatre, music and street art; (ii) social sciences and the humanities; and (iii) involvement of various societal groups in Iran within a comprehensive approach. The study’s key contribution lies in sketching out the wider framework within which cultural and academic exchange operates, of which international actors must be fully aware. This mainly but not exclusively concerns politico-ideological barriers (that may sometimes be open to negotiation) set up by the Islamic Republic of Iran that sensitively curtail the great diversity that exists across Iranian society. The study closes by offering a set of policy recommendations for international actors pertaining to cultural and academic exchange with Iran.

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