Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation




College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Joseph A. November


This study examines, and presents a revisionist account for, the development of the leading Iranian research institute for reproductive biomedicine and stem cell research—the Royan Institute—and more broadly, for the growth of biomedical sciences in Iran. It challenges the prevailing scholarly consensus that credits Islamic bioethics—a bioethical framework based on Islamic teachings that defines what is bio-ethically permissible—for biomedical developments in Iran and considers Islam to be the most important analytical framework there. The case is made that resorting to Islamic bioethics to account for the development of Assisted Reproductive Technologies, stem cell research, and animal biotechnology in Iran reduces the complexity of such multifaceted developments at the expense of overlooking other contributing factors, most notably, the nation-building agenda of modern nation-states. It is politically expedient to hold Islamic bioethics accountable for the development of biomedical sciences in the Muslim-majority Islamic Republic of Iran, but a more holistic, complicated, and nuanced historical perspective has been long due.

Support for this study’s claims is grounded on oral history interviews with Royan officials and early founders as well as with international scientists who have visited the Royan Institute, archival research in Tehran, a survey of Iranian religious scholars’ fatwas on bioethical issues, and an examination of bioethical institutional guidelines and parliamentary regulations. Taken together, these sources demonstrate that the tale of Royan cannot be told in: 1) a political vacuum isolated from the Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988); and it cannot be told in; 2) a scientific vacuum without discussing the development of reproductive medicine, stem cell research, and animal biotechnology in post-revolutionary Iran; or 3) in a social vacuum overlooking the dire familial demands for infertility treatment in the Iranian society.

There are many threads that run through the study of Iranian scientific institutions at the intersection of science, religion, state, and politics: a long-term celebration of science, a new and relatively short-term political dominance by religious conservatives, a highly calculated demand for nationalism from the government and elsewhere, an incorporation of modern science into Iranian modern identity, a demand for internationally credibility and regional hegemony, and a continuing presence of Iranian scientist-politician in scientific and political arenas.

Available for download on Thursday, August 15, 2024

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