Constructive resilience in response to oppression: the strategy of Bahá’ís in Iran

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Efforts to respond to oppression are often framed as strategies of ‘resistance’ or ‘liberation.’ This paper uses critical discourse analysis (CDA) to examine the assumptions implicit in these strategies and shows that they derive from a realism of ‘normative adversarialism,’ where confrontation is seen as a natural and inevitable approach for achieving social change. The paper then asks what an alternative conceptual lens might yield, where social transformation is reimagined as evolutionary, developmental and integrative. It concludes that, through such a lens, responding to oppression can be recast as an effort of ‘constructive resilience.’ Coined in relation to the systematic persecution of Iran’s largest religious minority—the Bahá’í faith—this term describes a strategy of transcending years of state-sponsored discrimination through activities such as literacy and empowerment initiatives for children and youth in socio-economically marginalized neighborhoods, as well as through a home-based university initiative. Consequently, this paper introduces a shift from confrontation to cohesion as the main driver for social change.

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