Saturday, February 26, 2022

Traditionalism and Iranian music

A new PhD thesis discusses the role of tradition, and thus Traditionalism, in Iranian music. It is by Kamyar Nematollahy, entitled “Iranian Classical Music Since the 1970s: The Discourses of Tradition and Identity,” and was submitted at the University of Cologne, from whose website it is available (link here). 

Nematollahy identifies a long-running discussion about tradition and modernity in Iranian music, termed سنت or sonnat (tradition) and تجدد or tajaddod (modernity). He shows that in the musical context, the word sonnat has three distinct but overlapping meanings: one theological, one Traditionalist, and one general. The theological meaning is the same as the meaning of the Arabic word سنة or sunna, meaning the practices of the prophet Muhammad. The general meaning is the same as the English word modernity. The Traditionalist meaning is that given it by Seyyed Hossein Nasr in the early 1970s, and is “the transmission of certain sacred, transcendent, and immutable rules and concepts.” Most of those who use the term in the ongoing debate, however, do not distinguish these three meanings as carefully as Nematollahy does, or indeed distinguish them at all. Perhaps something needs to be added to my standard distinction between “hard” and “soft” Traditionalism: accidental Traditionalism?

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