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Brenda Shaffer

Brenda Shaffer is Research Director of the Caspian Studies Program at Harvard University. She is the author of Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity (MIT Press, 2002).

Titles by This Author

Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity

The Azerbaijani people have been divided between Iran and the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan for more than 150 years, yet they have retained their ethnic identity. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an independent Azerbaijan have only served to reinforce their collective identity.

In Borders and Brethren, Brenda Shaffer examines trends in Azerbaijani collective identity from the period of the Islamic Revolution in Iran through the Soviet breakup and the beginnings of the Republic of Azerbaijan (1979-2000). Challenging the mainstream view in contemporary Iranian studies, Shaffer argues that a distinctive Azerbaijani identity exists in Iran and that Azerbaijani ethnicity must be a part of studies of Iranian society and assessments of regime stability in Iran. She analyzes how Azerbaijanis have maintained their identity and how that identity has assumed different forms in the former Soviet Union and Iran. In addition to contributing to the study of ethnic identity, the book reveals the dilemmas of ethnic politics in Iran.

Titles by This Editor

Islam and Foreign Policy
Edited by Brenda Shaffer

In recent years, analysts of world affairs have suggested that cultural interests -- ethnicity, religion, and ideology -- play a primary role in patterns of conflict and alliances, and that in the future the "clash of civilizations" will dominate international relations. The Limits of Culture explores the effect of culture on foreign policy, focusing on countries in the geopolitically important Caspian region and paying particular attention to those states that have identified themselves as Islamic republics -- Iran, Taliban Afghanistan, and Pakistan.The contributors to The Limits of Culture find that, contrary to the currently popular view, culture is rarely more important than other factors in shaping the foreign policies of countries in the Caspian region. They find that ruling regimes do not necessarily act according to their own rhetoric. Iran, for example, can conduct policies that contradict the official state ideology without suffering domestic retribution. Also, countries frequently align with one another when they do not share religious beliefs or cultural heritage. For example, Christian Armenia cooperates on trade and security with non-Christian Iran. Cultural identities, the contributors find, are flexible enough to enable states to pursue a wide range of policies that are consistent with their material interests. As the essays in The Limits of Culture make clear, the emerging foreign policies of the Caspian states present a significant challenge to the culturalist argument.