Iranian Studies

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Iranian Studies


the complex of humanistic studies treating the history, economics, languages, literary texts, and material and spiritual culture of the peoples speaking languages of the Iranian family.

Iranian studies took shape as a science in the 19th century. With the separation in the 20th century of Ossetian, Kurdish, Afghan, and Tajik studies from Iranian studies, the discipline is understood, on the one hand, as the study of Iran itself and, on the other hand, as the study of the languages and literatures (Iranian philology) and ancient history of the Iranian peoples.

Works on the history and culture of the Iranian peoples, written in ancient and early medieval times by them or by other peoples, together with epigraphical material, serve as valuable sources for Iranian studies. The rise of Iranian studies in Western Europe was stimulated primarily by the development of trade and diplomatic relations between the European countries and Iran, Central Asia, and India, and partly by the practical needs of missionaries. In the 13th and 14th centuries the first descriptions of the journeys of G. di Plano Carpini, William of Rubruck, Marco Polo, and G. de Clavijo were published; later, accounts appeared by the Italian traveler Pietro della Valle, the French travelers J. Tavernier, J. Chardin, and R. du Mans, and the German travelers A. Olearius and E. Kämpfer. In the 17th through mid-18th centuries, the first translations of Iranian classics appeared (G. Gentius, Holland), as well as grammars (Lode-wijk de Dieu, France), dictionaries (Jacobus Golius, Holland), translations of historical sources, and historical research (T. Hyde, Great Britain; B. d’Herbelot and La Mamye-Clairac, France). All these works established a foundation for Iranian studies.

Studies of the A vesta (French translation published in 1771 by the French scholar and traveler A. Anquetil-Duperron), the decipherment of Old Persian cuneiform (by the German scholar G. F. Grötefend and the English scholar H. Rawlinson), works on Old Persian language and classical poetry, and editions of texts and translations from Persian (W. Jones, Great Britain; R. Rask, Denmark; E. Burnouf, France) facilitated the founding of Iranian studies as a science. Thanks to the work of F. Gladwin, W. Ouseley, C. Elliot, and J. Gilchrist (Great Britain), S. de Sacy, J. Mohl, and E. Quatrèmere (France), J. Hammer-Purgstal (Austria-Hungary), V. von Rosenweig, J. Vullers, F. Rückert, and H. G. L. Kosegarten (Germany), and other scholars, the major works of Persian classical poetry had become part of world literature by the mid-19th century. Studies of the ancient Iranian languages played a significant role in the formation of the discipline of comparative linguistics. Most works on history were written using the comparative historical method and philological analysis. The most thorough works on the history of Iran belong to J. Malcolm and R. Watson (Great Britain) and J. A. de Gobineau (France). Information on social and economic conditions in Iran is provided mainly in the works of travelers and diplomats, such as J. Morier and J. Fraser (Great Britain), O. Blau (Germany), and A. Vámbéry (Austria-Hungary).

The advances in Iranian studies in the 19th century were associated with the general development of the humanistic disciplines in Europe and increased European interest in the countries of the East owing to nascent colonialist policies. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by the widening of the range of Iranian research and the beginning of the differentiation into separate branches. The number of languages and dialects studied grew, and previously unknown sources in Iranian languages were discovered: Sogdian, Parthian, Khota-nese-Sakian, and later Khwarezmian and Bactrian. Historical geography, Manichaean studies, modern history, ethnology, paleography, epigraphy, and numismatics were developed. Manuscript catalogs were published (C. Rieu, Great Britain; E. Blochet, France; H. Ethé and L. C. W. Pertsch, Germany).The most significant contributions to the study of Iranian languages and literatures and the ideologies and cultures of the Iranian peoples and their archaeology were made by the German scholars F. Andreas, C. Bartholomae, H. Ethé, P. Horn, F. Justi, T. T. Nöldeke, W. Geiger, M. Marquart, and F. Sarre; the Hungarian scholar I. Goldziher; the British scholars E. Browne, E. West, and R. Nicholson; the Italian scholar I. Pizzi; the French scholars J. Darmesteter, A. C. Barbier de Meynard, J. de Morgan, and C. Huart; and the Czech scholar W. Tomaschek. The achievements of Iranian studies up to the early 20th century are systematized in the encyclopedic work Fundamentals of Iranian Philology (Grundriss der iranischen Philologie, vols. 1–2, 1895–1904), in the articles on Iranian topics in the Encyclopaedia of Islam, and in E. Browne’s works on the literary history of Iran.

Iranian studies in Europe and the USA in the 20th century are typified by increased attention to socioeconomic and contemporary problems. Highly significant works on the ancient history and culture of Iran and the ancient Iranian languages were written by E. Herzfeld (Germany), J. Cameron, R. Kent, W. Henning, A. Pope, R. Frye, and R. Ettinghausen (USA), E. Denison Ross, H. Bailey, and I. Gershevitch (Great Britain), E. Benveniste, G. Lazard, A. Godard, and R. Ghirshman (France), H. S. Nyberg (Sweden), and G. Morgenstierne (Norway). Studies and publications of sources on medieval Iran have been prepared by the French scholar H. Massé, the Belgian scholar H. Courbin, the British scholars L. Lockhart and A. Arberry, the German scholars H. Ritter, B. Spuler, and W. Hinz (West Germany), the Danish scholars A. Christensen and J. P. Asmussen, and the American scholar N. Keddie; socioeconomic questions have been treated by the British scholars A. K. Lambton and L. Elwell-Sutton. The British scholar C. Storey has compiled the most complete bibliography of historical and literary works in Persian.

In Iran itself, the sources of the discipline go back to the chronicles and tazkirehs (biobibliographical anthologies) compiled until the 19th century. Since the early 20th century Iranian historiographers and philologists have employed contemporary methods of critical research (since M. Qazvini). Specialists on the ancient period (I. Pur-e Davud, H. Pirniya, S. Kiya, A. Sami) and on cultural and literary history (A. Taqi-zadeh, S. Nafisi, Badi al-Zaman Foruzanfar, Parviz Natel Khanlari, A. Zarrenkub, M. Minovi, R. Homayun-Farrokh), using the historicophilological method of research, have published historical texts and have studied textology and political history. Bibliographies have been published in Iran on the discipline (I. Afshar, E. Yar-Shater, S. Shafa), as well as catalogs (M. Danesh-Pa-zhuh, T. Tafazzoli) and various dictionaries (particularly the encyclopedic dictionaries compiled by A. Dekhhoda and M. Moin). Modern history is studied in the works of A. Kasravi, A. Eqbal, and F. Adamiyat; contemporary history is treated in works by Ali Azeri, Mohammad Taqi Bahar, and H. Makki. An anticolonialist tendency is noticeable in many of these works. T. Erani, P. Shada, and I. Eskandari, among others, introduced Marxist historiography. In 1968, Iran sponsored a congress on its art and archaeology; in 1970 the First National Congress on Iranian Studies was held.

India is a center of Avestan and Pahlavi studies (E. and B. An-klesaria, J. Modi, D. D. P. Sanjana, J. Unvala), the publication of medieval texts in Persian, and the study of medieval Persian history and the history of Persian literature (Shibli Numani, M. Siddiqi, S. Husain, M. Ishak, W. Ivanow). In Pakistan, historical chronicles and studies in medieval history and the history of Islam have been published by M. Shaft, M. Iqbal, and others. In Turkey there is a tradition of editions of classical Persian poetry accompanied by commentary (A. Ateş and A. Karahan); studies of Iranian medieval history have been written by §. Günaltay and N. Uzluk, and E. Z. Karal has researched the history of Turko-Iranian relations. The study of historical sources has been steadily progressing in Afghanistan (A. Koh-zad, M. Jobal), as has the study of language (A. Farhadi). Research in Iranian studies has also appeared in Egypt, Iraq, and Japan.

Iranian studies began in Russia in the first half of the 19th century (A. V. Boldyrev, O. I. Senkovskii, and A. I. Khodz’ko). The beginning of an active tsarist Russian policy with regard to Iran in the 19th century gave impetus to numerous descriptive works on Iran written by Russian diplomats and military officials, as well as by members of commercial and industrial circles. The descriptions of scientific expeditions by N. V. Khanykov and N. Zarudnyi are of value. The study of the history of Iran and neighboring countries based on primary sources was begun by I. N. Berezin, A. K. Kazem-Bek, B. A. Dorn, V. V. Gri-gor’ev, V. V. Vel’iaminov-Zernov, and N. I. Veselovskii. Particularly valuable studies were produced by V. V. Bartol’d, who analyzed socioeconomic problems, and by A. E. Krymskii and K. A. Inostrantsev, among others. Nineteenth-century Iran was studied by V. R. Rozen, A. G. Tumanskii, and L. F. Tigranov. Most Iranian scholars, however, concerned themselves with Iranian languages and literature (V. F. Miller, K. G. Zaleman, F. E. Korsh, and V. A. Zhukovskii).

The foundations of Soviet Iranian studies were laid by the researches of Marxist scholars concerned mainly with contemporary Iran (M. P. Pavlovich, A. S. Sultanzade, S. Pastukhov, V. Osetrov, V. Tardov) and by Iranian scholars of the older generation. Iranian scholars have been trained in Moscow, Leningrad, and the Union republics of the Soviet East. Soviet Iranian studies has attained its greatest successes from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. V. V. Struve, M. M. D’iakonov, I. M. D’iakonov, I. G. Aliev, M. A. Dandamaev, and V. G. Lukonin have written on the ancient history of Iran; B. G. Gafurov, N. V. Pigulevskaia, A. Iu. Iakubovskii, B. N. Zakhoder, I. P. Petrushevskii, A. A. Semionov, A. A. Ali-zade, M. A. Belenitskii, S. A. Azimdzhanova, A. D. Papazian, V. N. Gabashvili, and S. Puturidze have written on the Iranian Middle Ages. R. A. Ioannisian and Z. Z. Abdullaev have written on modern history and the policies of the European powers in Iran. Particular attention is paid to the history and socioeconomic problems of Iran in the 20th century, to Soviet-Iranian relations, to the history of the national liberation movement, and to the exposure of the policies of the imperialist powers (M. S. Ivanov, Kh. A. Ataev, S. L. Agaev). Essays and college-level textbooks on Iranian history have been published.

Iranian philology has become a discipline in its own right, attaining great successes in linguistics and dictionary compilation (A. A. Freiman, M. S. Andreev, I. I. Zarubin, B. V. Miller, G. S. Akhvlediani, V. I. Abaev, M. N. Bogoliubov, K. K. Kurdoev, V. S. Rastorgueva, V. S. Sokolova, V. A. Livshits, I. M. Oranskii, and L. S. Peisikov) and in literary analysis and textology (S. Aini, E. E. Bertel’s, I. S. Braginskii, A. N. Boldyrev, A. K. Arends, A. M. Mirzoev, and D. S. Komissarov). Since 1961 periodic scientific conferences on Iranian philology have been held in the Soviet Union.

Since 1969, Soviet and Iranian scholars have collaborated on the publication in Iran of critical editions of classical Persian literature, such as the Shah-nameh. Literary, historical, and archaeological investigations being carried out in the republics of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus are of great importance to the discipline. Catalogs of Iranian manuscripts in the major libraries of Leningrad, Tashkent, Dushanbe, Baku, and other cities have been published.

Marxist Iranian studies in foreign socialist countries are developing, particularly in Czechoslovakia (J. Rypka, O. Klima, F. Tauer, J. Becka), Hungary (J. Harmatta, S. Telegdi), the German Democratic Republic (H. Junker, W. Sundermann), and Poland (F. Machalski).

Many international congresses on Iranian studies have been held. Since 1931 there have been international congresses on Iranian art and archaeology (the third was held at Leningrad in 1935). Under the auspices of UNESCO an international congress on the Kushan question was held in Dushanbe in 1967; a symposium was held on art of the Timurid period (Samarkand, 1969); an international symposium was held on Persian-language poetry (Dushanbe, 1967). There have been international congresses of Iranian scholars, the first in Tehran in 1966 and the second in Rome in 1971. Soviet Iranian scholars participated in these sessions. The Corpus inscriptionum iranicorum was first published in 1957, and the preparation of an Atlas of the Iranian Languages is under way.

Iranian studies are carried on at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow and at its Leningrad affiliate; at the institutes of ethnography, philosophy, world economics and international relations, world literature, and linguistic studies of the USSR Academy of Sciences; at the Oriental institutes of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Tadzhikistan, and Turkmenia; at the Institute of Asian and African Countries of Moscow State University; in the department of Oriental studies at Leningrad State University; and in the universities of Baku, Tashkent, Tbilisi, Yerevan, Dushanbe, Ashkhabad, and Kazan. Problems of contemporary Iranian studies are treated in the Narody Azii i Afriki, Aziia i Afrika segodnia, and several other journals.

Iranian studies in Iran are conducted by the Imperial Cultural Council, the Iranian Academy (Farhangestan), the Research Foundation for Iranian Culture (Bonyad-e farhang-e Iran), and various universities, museums, and other scholarly establishments. In other Eastern countries, the universities of Kabul, Istanbul, Ankara, and Delhi and the Historical Society of Afghanistan, the Turkish Historical Society, the Asiatic Society of Bombay, and the Asiatic Society (in Calcutta) deal with Iranian studies. In European countries, the universities of Cambridge, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Prague, and Warsaw, the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London (Great Britain), the Franco-Iranian Institute (Paris and Shiraz), the Oriental Studies Institute (Italy), the Indo-Iranian Institute (Norway), the Institute of Iranian and Caucasian Languages (East Germany), and the Seminar on Indology and Iranian Studies (West Germany) treat the discipline; in the USA, Iranian studies programs exist at Michigan, California, Harvard, Columbia, and other universities.

A complete list of scholarly centers involved with Oriental studies (which includes Iranian studies) is provided in An International Directory of Institutes and Societies Interested in the Middle East (Amsterdam, 1962). The main periodicals (aside from general Oriental-studies periodicals) are Nameh-ye Farhangestan (News of the Academy of Sciences; Tehran, since 1943); Rakhnama-ye ketab (Book Guide; Tehran, since 1958); Farhang-e Iran zamin (Iranian Culture; Tehran, since 1953); Ariana (Kabul, since 1942; in Persian); Indo-Iranica (Calcutta, since 1946); Iranica Antigua (Leiden, since 1961); Indo-Iranian Journal (The Hague, since 1957); and the Zeitschrift fur Indolo-gie und Iranistik (Leipzig, 1922–36). On the study of the history, culture, literature, and languages of the Iranian peoples, see AFGHANISTAN, IRAN, and TADZHIK SSR.


Bartol’d, V. V. Istoriia izucheniia Vostoka v Evrope i v Rossii, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1925.
Oranskii, I. M. Vvedenie v iranskuiu filologiiu. Moscow, 1960.
Ocherki po istorii izucheniia iranskikh iazykov. Moscow, 1962.
Braginskii, I. S. “Iz istorii iranistiki.” In the collection Iran. Moscow, 1971.
Storey, C. A. Persidskaia literatura: Bio-bibliograficheskii obzor, parts 1–3. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from English.)
Shafa, Sh. Jahan-e iranshenasi (World of Iranian Studies), 2nd ed. Tehran [1970].
Khanlari, Parviz Natel. “Nazari be motalaat-e irani” (Survey of Iranistic Research). Sokhan. Tehran, 1970, no. 3.
Arberry, A. British Contributions to Persian Studies. London, 1942.
Gabriel, A. Die Erforschung Persiens. Vienna, 1952.


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