Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution

In December 1984, the Committee on the Cultural Revolution was formally institutionalized as an arm of the state by a decree by Khomeini. President Ali Khamenei was named chairman of the newly codified Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, a body whose primary objectives included “expansion and promotion of the influence of Islamic culture in the society…, purification of scientific and cultural establishments from materialistic ideas and clearing the country's cultural environment from manifestations of Western influence, and development of universities, schools, and cultural and art centers in accordance with the righteous Islamic culture.” Khamenei held this position throughout the duration of his presidency.

Khamenei saw his mission as the chief enforcer of Iran’s Cultural Revolution as nothing less than a holistic transformation of the Islamic Republic into a society run on Islamic principles. In a 1983 interview, Khamenei said, “Of course one of the goals of the Islamic Revolution from the very beginning was to turn Iran into an Islamic society where everything, every aspect of social, cultural, economic, political and personal life is governed by Islam and Islamic principles. Islamization of a nation that has been functioning in a Westernized or semi-Islamic society is a difficult task that takes many years, and is an ongoing movement. The Islamization process is both an internal and external Islamization – that means the Islamization of both domestic and foreign policies and of course domestic life in every aspect.”

One of Khamenei’s primary successes in the Cultural Revolution was blunting the momentum of Iran’s student movement. Prior to their closure, Iran’s universities were key incubators of liberal ideology and anti-clerical activism in society; upon their reopening, textbooks, and curricula were altered, students were segregated by gender, and professors and students deemed “un-Islamic” or “counterrevolutionary” were purged in order to ensure that universities served to advance Iran’s clerical-led revolutionary order.

From the reopening of Iran’s universities in 1983 until the end of his presidency, the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution chaired by Khamenei oversaw the banning of books that promoted Westernized thought and enforced regulations on “moral criteria” that student applicants were required to meet to be admitted to universities. Students had to affirm their belief in Islam or one of the other state-sanctioned “divine religions” (Christianity, Judaism, or Zoroastrianism) and pass vetting by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Prosecutor’s Office, and the General Prosecutor’s Office to ensure that their personal morality and political activities were in alignment with Islamic Revolution to gain admittance. The Supreme Council oversaw the formation of institutions permitted to operate within the university system, mostly Islamic student associations that supported the regime, effectively placing it in control over the affairs of all university students. As a result of these measures, the regime was able to tamp down on the university as a key node of dissent for a prolonged period.