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From military hero to martyr: crafting singularity and the formation of Muslim collective subjectivity in an Iranian statist ritual

Sana Chavoshian ORCID logo EMAIL logo


The staging of the funeral procession of Major General Qasem Soleimani (d. 3 January 2020) strengthened the Iranian state’s legitimation amidst the crisis related to intensified US sanctions. Images of his funeral parade across the country with its dense mourning crowd were circulated widely and commented on in both Iran’s official media and the international media. In response to these images, media commentaries engaged obsessively and exclusively with the biographical reviews that emphasised his heroic individuality and charismatic figure. This article engages critically with these reactions, while asking instead what his funeral tells us about the unfolding of the statist cult in Iran. I analyse two ethnographic scenes, one showing the entanglement of the official discourse of martyrdom with the statist culture, and the other, how the atmosphere of grief and veneration during the martyrs’ funeral processions unsettle the dichotomies between compliance and resistance, orchestrated and emergent affects. These observations open a new vista on the mutual processes of singularity and the collective subjectivation that goes beyond one-sided causal explanations of heroic individuality on the one hand and blatantly dramatised expressions of the state’s religious policies on the other.

Corresponding author: Sana Chavoshian, Leibniz Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, Germany; and KFG “Multiple Secularities: Beyond The West, Beyond Modernities”, Nikolaistr. 8–10, 04109 Leipzig, Germany, E-mail:


I am indebted to the exciting conversations I had with Monika Wohlrab-Sahr, Georg Stauth and Nader Sohrabi at the centre for advanced studies “Multiple Secularities” at Leipzig University. I am grateful to the editors and the anonymous peer reviewers of this special issue for their constructive feedback.


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Received: 2021-02-25
Accepted: 2021-11-25
Published Online: 2021-12-03
Published in Print: 2021-09-27

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