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Books

Zoroastrians of Iran: A History of Transformation and Survival

Kestenberg Amighi, Jaenet. 2022. Zoroastrians of Iran: A History of Transformation and Survival. First. Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers.

Zoroastrianism is both an ancient and still practiced religion. At its height it was the state religion of the Sasanian empire (224 to 651 AD) that ruled in the land of Persia. Arab conquest of the area destroyed that empire and a multitude eventually converted to Islam. Under Islamic rule Zoroastrians lived under severe restrictions, persecution while paying burdensome taxes. Many converted to Islam to escape these conditions and so Zoroastrian numbers dwindled. By 1850 no more than 8000 lived in their original homeland. Those who survived did see some periods of prosperity and eventually thrived under the secularizing rule of Reza Shah Pahlavi (1925-41) and his son (1941-79) who promoted an Iranian nationalism that embraced the Zoroastrian heritage. The main challenge to Zoroastrian persistence was the increasing secularism of society. With the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran once again the nation’s Zoroastrians found themselves subject to myriad discriminations, even their touch deemed polluting. Islam permeated Iran to a degree not seen before. The present work offers a unique socio-political history of the challenges faced by the Zoroastrian community from the 19th to 21st centuries as they confronted and adapted to the dramatic changes before them. The author, Anthropologist Janet Kestenberg Amighi lived and researched among her Zoroastrian in-laws in Iran from 1971-1978 and subsequently visited post-revolutionary Iran several times. This work is based on scholarly research as well as over 120 interviews with Zoroastrians, amusing personal experiences and the knowledge and experiences of her collaborator Bahman Moradian, an Iranian Zoroastrian scholar and community activist. Their collaboration provides varied insights and analyses of the socio-cultural and political change we see happening over the decades. The diverse Zoroastrian community perspectives are well represented.

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Books

A Universal History from the Late Sasanian Empire

Häberl, Charles G. 2022. The book of kings and the explanations of this world. A universal history from the late Sasanian Empire. Liverpool University Press.

The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran are adherents of the last surviving Gnostic tradition from the period of Late Antiquity, and the Book of Kings is the capstone to one of their most sacred scriptures. A universal history in four parts, it concisely outlines the entire 480,000 year span of the material world, from its creation to its destruction in the maw of the great Leviathan, with details including a succession of antediluvian cataclysms that have previously wiped out all human life, the reigns of the kings who have reigned over humanity and are still yet to reign, a lament on the end of pagan antiquity under the reign of the Arabs, and the apocalyptic drama attending those who have the misfortune to live at the end of the world era. For the first time ever, this work appears in English in its entirety, complete and unabridged, and directly translated from original Mandaic manuscripts, with the events mentioned within it coordinated with our calendar. It also includes an extensive commentary illustrating its relationship to contemporary historical writing and with the sacred literature of Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and other neighbouring religious communities living under Sasanian rule.

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Journal

Zoroastrianism Special

Journal of Himalayan and Central Asian Studies, Vol 25 (1-2), 2021. Guest Editor Shernaz Cama.

The newest issue of the Journal of the Himalayan and Central Asian Studies, Vol 25 (1-2), 2021, guest-edited by Shernaz Cama is dedicated to the Zoroastrisn Studies.

Recent discoveries by international teams from varying backgrounds of academic study have found rich artistic and linguistic material along the Silk Route. So far, these discoveries remain in volumes on Zoroastrian studies. This edition of the Journal of Himalayan and Central Asian Studies brings some of these findings to a wider audience. This will help make links between multicultural concepts, oral traditions as well as iconography. These multicultural links will be taken forward to a much later colonial and post-colonial period of history when adaptation and absorbing new influences once again becomes vital to the creation of a Parsi Zoroastrian culture. It is this multiculturalism, the ability to straddle different geographies and adapt to historical circumstances, while maintaining a core essence, which has been a feature of the Zoroastrian identity throughout its long history.

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Books

Introduction to the Avesta

Kellens, Jean, and Céline Redard. 2021. Introduction à l’Avesta: Le récitatif liturgique sacré des zoroastriens. Les Belles Lettres.

Almost all religions of the contemporary world refer to a book that their followers consider sacred. The Avesta, the sacred book of the Zoroastrian communities of Iran, India and the diaspora is one of them, which bears witness to the origins of the pre-Islamic religion of the Iranian peoples.

Something, however, demands a closer look. Often approached as the theoretical expression of a religious doctrine or the mirror of a forgotten history and geography, the Avesta is also a literary engine whose mechanisms can be dismantled, that is, the precise analysis of the mode of transmission, the particularities of structure and the liturgical intentions presided over these textual assemblies.

Such is the ambition of this book, which traces the evolution of research from its origins to the advances of the 21st century, when our understanding of the Avesta was revolutionised.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • Chapitre 1. Formation de la philologie avestique
  • Chapitre 2. La mise par écrit de l’Avesta
  • Chapitre 3. Le matériel manuscrit
  • Chapitre 4. Le texte transmis : l’Avesta
  • Chapitre 5. Analyse interne des textes constitutifs de l’Avesta
  • En guise de conclusion : un essai de chronologie
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Books

Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Yazd and Outlying Villages

Stewart, Sarah. Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Oral texts and testimony (Part 2, urban and rural contexts: Yazd and outlying villages). Iranica, GOF III/NF 18. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2020.

Voices from Zoroastrian Iran is the result of an oral studies research project that maps the remaining Zoroastrian communities in Iran. Volume II covers the city of Yazd and surrounding villages where Zoroastrians continue to live. Most of the interviews recorded from this region are in Zoroastrian Dari and can be found at the SOAS ELAR website.
As in Volume I, interviews included in this book cover a range of topics including views about the religion, what it has been to like to live as a member of a religious minority in Iran since the Revolution of 1979, and accounts of religious education, festivals, and ceremonies surrounding rites of passage. Elderly residents in the villages are a rich source of memories from earlier times, before younger people left the rural areas for the cities and emigration abroad became commonplace. These have been illuminated by colourful descriptions of village life in the 1960’s contained in Mary Boyce’s Notebooks (held at the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge). Her portrayal of shrines and fire temples, the gardens, flowers, trees, fruit and vegetables that were grown, and the way in which the land was farmed and water distribution was managed informs the interview summaries contained in Appendices A, and B. These shorter interviews were conducted in the form of a verbal questionnaire and give a more general insight into what is left of Zoroastrian village life today. A demographic survey of the Zoroastrian population of the Yazd Mahalleh, as well as maps of this area drawn in 2007 are included. A general overview of the Zoroastrian religion and society, as well as an account of devotional life, is contained in Chapters 1–3 in Volume I and pertains to both books.

The full, unedited interviews have been made available online in digitised format in the Endangered Languages Archive (ELAR) at SOAS (https://www.elararchive.org/dk0460/).

For the table of the contents see here.

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Books

Human History, Its Aims and Its End, according to the Zoroastrian Doctrine of Late Antiquity

Panaino, Antonio. 2020. Human History, Its Aims and Its End, according to the Zoroastrian Doctrine of Late Antiquity. In Tilo Schabert & John von Heyking (eds.), Wherefrom Does History Emerge?, 97–122. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Zoroastrianism offers a remarkable presentation of the origin of humankind, its present condition, and its final destiny. Human history is considered to be the result of a cosmological strategy enacted by god himself, Ohrmazd, in order to compel his direct and primordial antagonist, the evil Ahreman, to engage battle in our world. Eventually, the forces of darkness will be completely destroyed at the conclusion of a chiliadic temporal cycle. The most important battle in order to defeat Ahreman is fought by humankind. The importance of history in this teleology accounts for the emphasis put by it on the political dimension. We evoke the Sasanian period, in which the Persian kings assumed the status of a kosmokrátor, i.e. of a universal king, charged with achieving victory over evil. We offer in this article an overview of the intellectual contribution of the Pre-Islamic Iranian world to the idea of history.

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Books

The Parsi community of India and the making of modern Iran

Marashi, Afshin. 2020. Exile and the nation: the Parsi community of India and the making of modern Iran. Austin: University of Texas Press.

In the aftermath of the seventh-century Islamic conquest of Iran, Zoroastrians departed for India. Known as the Parsis, they slowly lost contact with their ancestral land until the nineteenth century, when steam-powered sea travel, the increased circulation of Zoroastrian-themed books, and the philanthropic efforts of Parsi benefactors sparked a new era of interaction between the two groups.

Tracing the cultural and intellectual exchange between Iranian nationalists and the Parsi community during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Exile and the Nation shows how this interchange led to the collective reimagining of Parsi and Iranian national identity—and the influence of antiquity on modern Iranian nationalism, which previously rested solely on European forms of thought. Iranian nationalism, Afshin Marashi argues, was also the byproduct of the complex history resulting from the demise of the early modern Persianate cultural system, as well as one of the many cultural heterodoxies produced within the Indian Ocean world. Crossing the boundaries of numerous fields of study, this book reframes Iranian nationalism within the context of the connected, transnational, and global history of the modern era.

Contents:

  • Note on Transliteration and Dates
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. To Bombay and Back: Arbab Kaykhosrow Shahrokh and the Reinvention of Iranian Zoroastrianism
  • Chapter 2. Patron and Patriot: Dinshah J. Irani, Parsi Philanthropy, and the Revival of Indo-Iranian Culture
  • Chapter 3. Imagining Hafez: Rabindranath Tagore in Iran, 1932
  • Chapter 4. Ebrahim Purdavud and His Interlocutors: Parsi Patronage and the Making of the Vernacular Avesta
  • Chapter 5. Sword of Freedom: Abdulrahman Saif Azad and Interwar Iranian Nationalism
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Books

Pregnancy in Middle-Persian Zoroastrian Literature

Delaini, Paolo. 2019. Pregnancy in Middle-Persian Zoroastrian Literature: The Exchange of Knowledge between India, Iran, and Greece in Late Antiquity. In Costanza Gislon Dopfel, Alessandra Foscati & Charles Burnett (eds.), Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Premodern World, 29–51. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

In Late Antiquity Sasanian court patronage attracted philosophers, medical doctors, and teachers from the former Roman Empire. Contemporary observers noted that the court of the Sasanian King Xusraw I (AD 531–79) was a meeting place open to philosophical debates and to the diffusion of medical knowledge. According to tradition, King Xusraw welcomed the Greek philosopher Damascius and the ‘seven sages of Byzantium’ to his ancient capital of Ctesiphon at the time of their expulsion from Athens’s school of philosophy. It seems that this king was deeply interested in medicine; he invited and hosted numerous Byzantine doctors and financially supported Abraham of Beth Rabban, director of the influential Nisibis School, in his endeavour to build a hospital (xenodocheion).

Delaini offers in his article a cross-cultural analysis of pregnancy and childbirth traditions in Middle Persian Zoroastrian Literature.

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Books

Iconographic Exegesis of Anthropomorphic Zoroastrian Deities

Farridnejad, Shervin. 2018. Die Sprache der Bilder: Eine Studie zur ikonographischen Exegese der anthropomorphen Götterbilder im Zoroastrismus (Iranica 27). Harrassowitz-verlag.

Einer in der Forschung weit verbreiteten Meinung zufolge existierte im Alten Iran keine zoroastrische Kunst. In Sprache der Bilder nun untersucht Shervin Farridnejad Darstellungen altiranischer anthropomorpher Gottheiten und deren Erscheinung im zoroastrischen Pantheon mit der methodischen Herangehensweise einer exegetischen Ikonographie.
Farridnejad zeichnet die Darstellungsweise und Entwicklung der zoroastrischen Götterbilder nach und analysiert den Ursprung ihrer Ikonographie innerhalb der iranischen religiösen Bildsprache, insbesondere im Wechselspiel mit den in der schriftlich überlieferten Tradition bewahrten religiösen Ideen. Der Autor widmet sich in seiner umfassenden und reich bebilderten Studie den teilweise komplex aufgebauten Götterbildern, die als vielschichtige Bedeutungsträger im religiösen Leben der alten Zoroastrier eine große Rolle spielten. Darüber hinaus ermittelt er allgemeine formale Strukturen, beleuchtet ihre Genese und erforscht den „Sitz im Leben“ der Götterbilder, indem er vor allem die literarische Überlieferung des zoroastrischen Corpus im Avestischen und Mittelpersischen berücksichtigt. Farridnejad bietet so erstmals einen umfassenden, methodisch fundierten Überblick über die zoroastrische Bildersprache im Kontext von Religion und Kultur des vorislamischen Iran.

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Books

Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Oral Texts and Testimony

Stewart, Sarah. 2018. Voices from Zoroastrian Iran: Oral texts and testimony (Part 1: Urban contexts: Kerman, Tehran, Ahwaz, Esfahan, Shiraz), vol. 1. (Iranica, GOF III/NF 17). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
Voices from Zoroastrian Iran (Volumes I and II) is the result of an oral studies research project that maps the remaining Zoroastrian communities in Iran and explores what has happened to their religious lives and social structures since the Revolution of 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.
Interviews included in Volume 1 are with Zoroastrians from the urban centres of Tehrān, Kermān, Ahvāz, Shirāz and Esfahān. Participants refer to community leaders, historical figures, local events, teachers and religious texts that have shaped their views and understanding of the religion. They also address the impact of recent history upon their lives. The religion itself is presented as understood by those interviewed, drawn largely from the interpretations of Iranian scholars and scholar-priests, as opposed to those of predominantly western scholars. A chapter in the book is devoted to a survey of the main Iranian Zoroastrian religious observances as well as some popular customs. As a result of the new Constitution, the return to shari ‘a and the eight-year war with Iraq that followed the Revolution, the relationship between Zoroastrians and the state changed. The new political environment began to shape the religious and social identities of the next generation through Zoroastrian institutions such as the anjomans (councils) as well as those established by the government of the Islamic Republic.
The interviews for this book span a period of living memory that reflects both pre- and post-revolutionary Iran. The views expressed are informed by the changes that took place during that time and throw light on subjects as diverse as education, emigration, conversion and religious reform. The vol. 2 is planed to come out in 2019.
Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Background and Context: Religion
  • Chapter 2 Devotional Life: Customs and Observances
  • Chapter 3 Background and Context: Society
  • Chapter 4 Kermān
  • Chapter 5 Tehrān
  • Chapter 6 Ahvāz, Shirāz and Esfahān
  • Conclusions

Read the detailed table of contents here.