By Behnam Gholipour
December 18, 2020
In Iranian society today, as in other societies, individual identities are becoming more and more prominent, and people pursue their own values by dispensing with some of the prevailing norms and social and cultural “red lines” that previously they could not cross.
Some of the new values and beliefs contrast significantly with the long-held beliefs of the ruling clerics in Iran. And now they have now become one of the most important indicators of the current life of Iranians and have affected many areas of government and governance.
Iran’s clerical class, who came to power with the 1979 Islamic Revolution and who have been promoting religious beliefs from their official platforms for 40 years, and for generations beforehand too, are increasingly concerned about the decline in people’s religious beliefs. The old beliefs are being replaced new values which the clerics have labelled as “cultural ambush”, “soft war” and “cultural invasion.”
New lifestyles that are independent of, and sometimes even in conflict with, religious beliefs have expanded in recent years, highlighting differences in Iran’s developing society and causing widespread dissatisfaction among religious policymakers.
These differences have found their own place in Iran and are generally accepted. Nowadays in the streets, shopping malls and entertainment districts of many cities in Iran, examples of the new lifestyle can be easily seen; styles that contrasts with traditional and religious values, but that are finding some form of coexistence with these values.
In the last 10 years, with the increase in foreign travel among Iranians, increasing use of social networks, ease of access to satellite television network and the import of consumer goods, the lifestyles of the Iranian people have undergone fundamental changes.
In its latest issue, the Culture-Communication Studies quarterly, affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, examines five types of lifestyles in Tehran and tries to provide an objective picture of them.
This research has been published under the title “Boundaries and Cultural Transactions Among Different Lifestyle Groups in Tehran”.
The research attempts to discuss the demarcations and cultural transactions between different lifestyle groups in the capital.
The statistical sample for this study was 625 people over 16 years old in Tehran. According to their opinions, five types of lifestyles, “unrestricted,” “unfavorable,” “deviant,” “religious,” “favourable,” and “privileged,” were defined, which forms the boundaries within which social movements of Tehran residents interacted with each other.
The study considered the indicators of “unrestricted” lifestyles in Tehran as “participating in mixed parties,” “posting a photo of oneself without a hijab on virtual networks,” and “removing the hijab on foreign trips, having fun and socializing with the opposite sex.”
Indicators of “unfavorable” lifestyles in this study are “ignorance of fashion,” “shopping from inner city peddlers,” “large families” and “living in slums.”
Indicators of “deviant” lifestyles in this study include “being single and visiting several prostitutes,” “infidelity,” “smoking and drugs,” and “being shaggy.”
The study identified “not looking at the face of a non-family member when talking to them,” “excessive use of Arabic words,” “wearing a chador” and “participating in mourning processions” as characteristics of a “religious” lifestyle.
According to the participants in this study, a “favorable and enjoyable lifestyle” also has characteristics such as “having a higher education,” “owning expensive cars” and “living in affluent neighborhoods.”
This study, after initial formulation, reviews each of these lifestyles based on age, education, and social class.
According to the results of this study, divorced people in the first place and singles in the second place, compared with other gender groups, acted more freely in their social interactions with others, and crossed cultural boundaries more, and that this situation will continue in the future.
Another part of this study also shows that people with higher education, residents of affluent neighborhoods, and people with better economic status, feel less restricted by cultural boundaries; and conversely, that people with lower educations and living in poor and less affluent neighborhoods, with lower economic status, observed more these boundaries and showed less tolerance to crossing cultural boundaries. And young people are implicitly named as the ambassadors and standard-bearers of the new lifestyles.
The data in the table above show that younger people, compared to middle-aged and older people, have less of a demarcation between the “unrestricted” lifestyle group and the “deviant” lifestyle group.
This table also shows that as the social class of individuals rises, so does their degree of separation from the “religious” lifestyle group; and as the social class of individuals lowers, their degree of separation or demarcation from the “religious” lifestyle group decreases.
Another notable finding in the study shows that the degree of demarcation of Tehran residents compared to non-residents was less along the “unfavorable,” “deviant” and “favorable” lifestyle groups, and more with the “unrestricted” and “religious” lifestyle groups.
The study goes on to say that in the city of Tehran, non-Tehran-born people cross cultural demarcation lines more than Tehran-born people, and that the possibility of cultural movement is higher among Tehran-born people.
The study also shows that singles and divorced people have more tolerance and less demarcation than even the “unrestricted” lifestyle. The data also shows that singles, spouses of the deceased, divorced and married people have more boundaries to the “unfavorable” lifestyle, respectively. The degree of demarcation of the respondents in this study, in relation to the “deviant” lifestyle, is among spouses of the deceased, married, single and divorced.
The data also states that divorced and single people have more boundaries than the “religious” lifestyle groups in Tehran, respectively. And divorces, more than others, play a role in breaking down boundaries and increasing cultural movement in Tehran.
This study examines and criticizes the five current lifestyles in Tehran through the lens of religious beliefs and the Islamic Revolution and seems to have a critical view of non-Islamic lifestyles. But the results show that most of the residents of Tehran have more boundaries between themselves and religious groups than other lifestyles.
Youth and women are the two main social groups that are considered to be at the forefront of changing lifestyles in Iran. The study also confirmed that these two groups are leading the way in breaking other social and cultural boundaries that result from religious and traditional laws, compared to other groups.
The new ways of life, which the officials of the Islamic Republic call “cultural ambush,” continue to grow in Iran with unprecedented power and speed. They are gradually abandoning strict religious and traditional relations and laws and are trying to harmonize themselves with globally accepted values.