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Center for Metropolitan StudiesPodcast VII: Sacred spaces and debates over healing in Iran amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

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Sacred spaces and debates over healing in Iran amidst the COVID-19 pandemic


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There are a significant number of shrines and sacred sites that are located in major city centers in Iran. Historically, these urban sites have played an important role in the socio/spatial structures of these cities. It is fair to say that the shrine’s physical transformation is the main reason generating the re-structuring of sacred cities.

In this talk, we discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the everyday life of these sites and how it has emphasized the transnational qualities of Shi’a shrines in the Middle East region. Since the beginning of the pandemic, debates have emerged regarding urban governance and what lockdown means for holy shrines. We explore these debates around the shrine’s urban life and examine the issues facing contemporary transnational urban pilgrimage sites.

My name is Shiva Shadravan and I am a guest researcher at the Center for Metropolitan Studies in TU-Berlin. My partners in this podcast are Alex Shams and Samar Saremi.

Alex Shams is a Ph.D. student of Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He is based in Tehran, Iran where he has been engaged in ethnographic fieldwork research for the last year and a half. His dissertation is about the politics of sacred space, transnational pilgrimage, and religious identity in contemporary Iran and Iraq. Shams is also an editor of Ajam Media Collective, an online platform focused on social and cultural issues in Iran and Central Asia.

Samar Saremi is an architect and a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Anthropology at the University of Montreal. She studies the power dynamism responsible for the development of sacred sites, in particular the case study of the Shrine of Imam Reza in Iran. She draws on ethnography of the shrine’s spatial development to investigate how the state’s notion of sacrality transforms the sacred space. She has been a member of the French-Canadian Association of Sociologists and Anthropologists (ACSALF) since 2019. 


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