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Iranian studies (Persian: ايرانشناسی - Īrānšenāsī), is an interdisciplinary field dealing with the study of history, literature, art and culture of the Iranian people. It is a part of the wider field of Oriental studies.
Iranian studies is broader than and distinct from Persian studies, which is the study of the modern Persian language (known as "Farsi" or "Parsi" to the natives) and literature specifically. The discipline of Iranian Studies focuses on broad trends in culture, history, language and other aspects of only Persians, but not a variety of other contemporary and historical Iranic peoples, such as Baluchis, Kurds, Pashtuns, Ossetians, Scythians, Parthians, Sogdians, Bactrians, etc.
The medieval Iranian poet Abu'l-Qasim Ferdowsi, author of the Iranian national epic the Shahnameh, can be considered the "founder" of Iranian Studies in the sense that in his work he made a deliberate effort to highlight Persian culture prior to the Arab conquests. In this sense Ferdowsi's nationalistic approach can be contrasted with that of Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, the famous ninth-century historian whose History of the Prophets and Kings reflects a more specifically Islamic perspective. Ferdowsi's work follows earlier semi-historical works such as the lost Sasanian-era Khwaday-Namag.
Persian historiography strictly speaking begins with the Tarikh-i Mas'udi of Abolfazl Beyhaghi (995-1077), whose fluent prose style was highly influential on subsequent Persian literature. Persian historical writing reached its peak two centuries later with the Jami al-Tawarikh of Rashīd al-Dīn Fadhl-allāh Hamadānī (1247–1318). Other important historical works include the Tarikh-i jehan-gusha of Ata al-Mulk Juvayni and the Zafar-nameh of Sharaf ad-Din Ali Yazdi, a history of the Mongolian conqueror Timur (Tamerlane; 1370–1405).Iranian Studies in modern Iran
Among the most prominent scholars of Iranian Studies in Iran during the twentieth century may be counted Badiozzaman Forouzanfar, Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub, Zabihollah Safa, Mojtaba Minovi, Mohsen Abolqasemi, Ahmad Tafazzoli, and Alireza Shapour Shahbazi. The Loghat-nameh of Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda is the largest comprehensive Persian dictionary ever published, in 15 volumes (26,000 pages).Iranian Studies in Europe
European scholarly interest in Iranian language and civilization dates back to the late eighteenth century, with the emergence of comparative Indo-European linguistics and the translation of the Avesta by French scholar Abraham Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron. British interest in Persian was spurred by the fact that it was the administrative language of much of India; German scholars were attracted by the purported cultural links with Iran as a fellow "Aryan" civilization.
The major European scholarly organization devoted to Iranian Studies is the Societas Iranologica Europea. The London-based Iran Heritage Foundation supports Iranian studies at several universities and sponsors a wide range of public cultural events.
The first major American Iranianist was Columbia University professor A. V. Williams Jackson (1862-1937), a scholar of Indo-Iranian languages who is known for producing a grammar of the Avestan language. During the 1950s Richard Frye developed Iranian Studies at Harvard; Iran specialists were also found at several other North American universities including the University of Chicago, Princeton University, UCLA, and the University of Toronto. The Society for Iranian Studies (now the International Society for Iranian Studies) was founded by a group of Iranian graduate students in 1967 and began producing a journal, Iranian Studies. The field expanded considerably during the 1970s, with a number of Americans having served in the Peace Corps in Iran taking up academic positions. Close relations between Iran and the US facilitated the growth of academic programs as well as the Asia Institute in Shiraz and the American Institute of Iranian Studies.
The 1979 revolution initially reversed this trend; American academic centers in Iran were closed and their assets seized. Over the past three decades, lack of funding and the difficulty of research travel to Iran have been major obstacles to Iran scholars based in North America. Nevertheless, the field has seen some important achievements such as the monumental Encyclopedia Iranica project led by retired Columbia professor Ehsan Yarshater. In recent years several new centers for Iranian Studies have been established, notably at the University of California-Irvine, the University of Maryland, and Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Iranian Studies "initiatives" have been launched at the University of Toronto, New York University, and the University of California-Santa Barbara.
The Yarshater lectureship is today the most prestigious honor in the field.