The Politics of Culture in Times of Rapprochement: European Cultural and Academic Exchange with Iran (2015–16) - Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad • Official Website
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Ali Fathollah-Nejad, The Politics of Culture in Times of Rapprochement: European Cultural and Academic Exchange with Iran (2015–16), new forewords by Amir-Hassan Cheheltan & Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Potsdam (Germany): Wissenschaftsverlag WeltTrends., May/June 2020.

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Study-Related Public Discussions

About the Book


The book 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.



Exactly 200 years after the publication of Goethe’s West–östlicher Divan (1819), Ali Fathollah-Nejad is inspired by the same cultural questions that had brought the preeminent German poet to the poetic feasts of his Iranian counterpart Hafez. Ali Fathollah-Nejad writes this groundbreaking book in English, in the critical space between his two other native languages: German and Persian. His caring intellect and critical prose are precisely what we need in this age of nuclear nightmares. He is grounded in the geopolitics of that nightmare, but liberated in the visionary recitals of the same poetic possibilities that had turned Goethe to Hafez.”
Hamid Dabashi, Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University in New York


Assessing the current conditions and possibilities for Iran’s realistic engagement with the outside world, especially Germany, with extraordinary perspicuity […]. Highlighting academic exchange, cooperation with Iranian NGOs – especially in areas such as the environment, child labour, Afghan refugees and immigrants – and with the women and student movements, Fathollah-Nejad’s book provides solutions that could and should be considered by those interested in these issues.

Amir-Hassan Cheheltan, award-winning novelist (most recently Prize for Contemporary Literature in Translation), in his Foreword



Ali Fathollah-Nejads Studie analysiert knapp, kenntnisreich und zielgerichtet, wo die Probleme im deutsch-iranischen akademischen und kulturellen Austausch liegen, wie dieser oftmals von Politik verhindert wird und welche Aspekte man beachten sollte, damit eine (Wieder-)Annäherung erfolgreich sein kann. Unterm Strich identifiziert der Autor auf zahlreichen Ebenen Chancen und Möglichkeiten, die ergriffen werden können. Wenn die Akteure in beiden Ländern offen und bereit dazu sind.

[Ali Fathollah-Nejad’s study provides a concise, knowledgeable and targeted analysis of where the problems lie in German–Iranian academic and cultural exchange, how this is often prevented by politics and which aspects should be taken into account so that a (re-)rapprochement can be successful. All in all, the author identifies opportunities and possibilities that can be seized on numerous levels. When the actors in both countries are open and ready to do so.]

—Gerrit Wustmann, Deutsch–iranischer Austausch: Die Perspektive wechseln [German–Iranian exchange: Changing perspective], Iran-Journal, 17. Juli 2020.