Falsifying the state of Iranian Studies

Lendering believes that Farrokh’s observation regarding the decline of Iranian Studies in the west “could not be farther from the truth. He believes that Iranian Studies programs are doing well in North America and Europe. This is completely misinformed and reveals another distortion with respect to Iranica. To bolster his argument, Lendering resorts to focusing on exceptions (i.e. Professor Briant’s excellent works in France) and ignores the state of Iranian  Studies as whole.

Lendering's views are completely contradicted by prominent professors and academics=2 0of Iranian Studies. This is notably seen in an interview by the Gooya News Service with Professor Ehsan Yarshater, the editor of the Encyclopaedia Iranica, on June 6, 2004. Below are excerpts of that long interview with Professor Yarshater which are of interest:

Gooya: …with the=2 0loss and passing of these great scholars of Iranian Studies (e.g. Taffazoli, Bahar, etc.), how do you see the future of Iranian Studies? Are there new Young forces entering this field or are we about to face a "Faghr [Persian: poverty/dearth/scarcity] e Farhangi"[intellectual/cultural] (in Iranian Studies)? What will be the impact of this on the Encyclopaedia Iranica project?

Professor Yarshater: …we have yet to complete the sections such as the Sassanians, Nowruz, or Zarathustra…with the passing of intellectual greats such as Bahar, we have been struggling to find scholars who are at a competent level of knowledge; this has in fact proven to be a very difficult task. In fact, the total number of competent scholars in Iranian Studies is decreasing…we are faced with a c ritical shortage of scholars in Iranian Studies. ..the future for Iranian Studies is not "omeedbaksh"[Persian: hopeful/optimistic/inspiring]…the number of young scholars drawn to Iranian Studies has become alarmingly low… another problem is that due to the political and economic problems of Iran in the international arena, many young scholars who would be otherwise attracted to Iranian Studies are now being drawn to domains such as Turkey and India. As a result older scholars who retire from Iranian Studies are not being replaced…Iranian Studies today is being denuded of new faculty and younger students . . .the one exception is Italy…

Since that interview, Italy too has eliminated its Iranian Studies program. See report below on July 1st 2008:

Encyclopedia Iranica criticizes closure of Iranian Studies Institute in Italy
http://www.topix.com/science/anthropology/2008/07/iranica-critici zes-closure-of-iranian-studies-institute-in-italy
July 1st, 2008

The report noted that:

The Encyclopedia Institute in a letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano voiced their criticism against closure of Iranian Studies Institute in Italy.

Lendering's postings were made on July 16th of 2008, a liitle over 2 weeks after the attempted closure of Iranian Studies in Italy. This indicates one of three possibilities:

(1) Lendering is completely oblivious to the state of Iranian Studies programs
(2) Lendering is deliberately falsifying information.
(3) Lendering does not check his sources before issuing definitive statements

It is left to the reader to arrive at his or her conclusions here. As noted previously however, Lendering's distortions here involve a narrow and singular focus on outliers or exceptions (i.e. Briant, Sancisi-Weerdenburg). .


The current state of Iranian Studies in the West has been aptly summarized by Professor Rudolph Matthee in a message sent via e-mail on Monday September 29th, 2008 to Madame Soudavar Farmanfarmain of the Soudavar Foundation (Kaveh Farrokh will be expostulating this in his upcoming negotiations with the University of British Columbia to help establish a chair of Iranian Studies there):

"My ultimate reason for writing this is my concern for and about the field of Iranian and Persianate Studies which remains fragile - challenged by various forms of nationalism-cum-ethnic price - as you yourself have pointed out more than once--, by postmodern tendencies among some of its practitioners and the attendant curse of impenetrable writing, but also by internal fighting and feuding among Iranians."

Dr. Rudolph Matthee (Unidel Distinguished Professor of History)

University of Delaware

Department of History


Other world-class scholars lamenting the state of Iranian Studies include Professor Nasrin Rahimieh:

From: Nasrin Rahimieh <nrahimie@uci.edu>
To: manuvera@aol.com
Sent: Tue, 30 Sep 2008 9:09 pm
Subject: Programs and Institutes in Iranian Studies

Dear Dr. Farrokh,

In my capacity as the President of the International Society for Iranian Studies and the Director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture, I have found it distressing to witness the ever-diminishing resources dedicated to the field of Iranian Studies at institutions of higher learning across the globe.  At a crucial time when understanding and researching Iranian culture and history are so important to global politics, it is most unfortunate that reputable research-intensive universities have turned a blind eye to teaching and research in Iranian Studies. 

I hope that our small and vital network of academicians does not further diminish in size.

Sincerely yours

Nasrin Rahimieh

Maseeh Chair and Director

Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture &

Professor of Comparative Literature

University of California, Irvine

4800A Berkeley Place

Irvine, California 92697-3370

Tel: (949) 824-0406

Fax: (949) 824-9895

The observations above have unfortunately demonstrated one fact clearly: Lendering’s statement regarding Iranian Studies is misinformed, misleading and completely false. In fact (excluding the misconceptions in the previous items)  the Lendering’s statements here are very damaging to the field of Iranian Studies

Before we proceed with that discussion, let us first examine the entire statement by Lendering: 

At the same time, Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg organized several Achaemenid Workshops, the results of which were published in a series of publications called Achaemenid History. For the first time, Iranology has a clear structure and this is - even according to more relativistic theories about the quality of scholarship - progress. One may regret the sometimes exaggerated admiration for Briant, but his accomplishment is real. Farrokh's statement that "there has been an overall decline of programs and studies of Iranica in western Europe and the United States since 1980" could not be farther from the truth.”


This statement reveals that Lendering:


a] does not understand what is meant by “Iranica. Achaemenid Studies and Iranica is not one and the same thing: the former is but a subset of the larger domain of the latter. Iranica or the domain of Iranian Studies is a large domain that can be broadly broken down into the following two branches:


Pre-Islamic Era: This includes the Median Empire, Achaemenid Empire, Parthia, the Sassanian Empire, Kushan, Soghdia, the Saka/Scythinas, Sarmatian peoples (Alans, Roxalans, etc.), pre-Islamic Iranic mythology, arts, architecture, linguistics, etc.


Post-Islamic Era: This includes the rise of New Persian language and literature, post-Islamic arts and architecture, etc., Turco-Persian culture, political and historical arenas such as the Safavids, Afshars, Zands, Qajars, Pahalvi and modern Iran, etc.


b] does not recognize the real “who's who” of Achaemenid Studies (i.e. David Stronach, Shahrokh Razmjou, John Curtis, Vesta Sarkhosh, James Russel, Linda Walbridge, Peter Chelkowski, Roger Savory, etc.). He ignores the academic mainstream of Achaemenid Studies and selectively exaggerates the significance of the Weedenburg workshops and other handpicked references. To his credit, Lendering does recognize Briant, which is grounds for optimism. However he is grossly exaggerating Briant’s notable accomplishments as if these alone can compensate for the general state of affairs in the entire domain of Iranian Studies.


Let us now revisit this portion of Lendering’s statement:

For the first time, Iranology has a clear structure and this is … progress. … Farrokh's statement that "there has been an overall decline of programs and studies of Iranica in western Europe and the United States since 1980" could not be farther from the truth.”


The fact that Iranian Studies (including Achaemenid Studies) as a whole has been in decline since 1979 was first reported by Farzeen Nasri as far back as 1983:


Farzeen Nasri, (1983). Review: Iranian Studies and the Iranian Revolution. World Politics, 35 (4), pp. 607-630


The issue was put forward on March 1, 2008 in the Honoring Ceremony for Professor Emeritus, Richard Nelson Frye in Notre Dame University located in the Greater San Francisco Area (hosted by the Persian American Society). In this conference, Professor Richard Nelson Frye, Dr. Farhang Mehr, and a number of other prominent academic speakers in Iranian Studies noted that Iranian Studies in the west is being compromised due to the following factors:


1] The revision of major facets of Iranian history by a number of western academics. One example is the trend by a number of western institutions to deny the existence of the term “Persian Gulf” in history by publishing textbooks such as Daniel Potts and his two-volume book entitled “The History of the Arabian Gulf in Antiquity”.


2] The growing disciplines of Islamic Studies, Arabian Studies and Turkish Studies at the expense of Iranian Studies programs in major western universities such as McGill in Montreal and the University of Rome.


3] Lack of funding and support from the current Iranian government, especially with respect to pre-Islamic Iranica


The crisis facing Iranian Studies in the west has been duly noted in a number of articles in one of the most prestigious refereed journalistic platforms of Iranian Studies, Iranshenasi. Here are a number of articles:


Babai, S. (1994). Description and book review Iranshenasi: A Journal of Iranian Studies, VI(3), 620-624.


Matini, J. (1989). Scientific and artistic artefacts of Iranian origin placed in the Saudi Pavilion in Washington DC. Iranshenasi: A Journal of Iranian Studies, I(2), 390-404.


Matini, J., & Dabashi, H. (1991). The placement of Sassanian art works within “Islamic Arts”. Iranshenasi: A Journal of Iranian Studies, III(3), 657-658.


Lendering is ignorant of the literature and conferences regarding the critical state of Iranian Studies. Let us re-examine the statement:


For the first time, Iranology has a clear structure and this is - even according to more relativistic theories about the quality of scholarship - progress.

Perhaps the definition of “progress” in Iranian Studies is relative. Mathiass Schulz of Vanderbilt University now laments that the notion of Cyrus the Great having been a defender of Human Rights is a “hoax that the UN had fallen for” (Falling for ancient propaganda: UN honours Persian despot, Spiegel Magazine, July 15, 2008). Note that Lendering also subscribes to this idea, which corresponds to pan-Islamic conspiracy theories (Item 2, Item 3).

If Schulz exemplifies what Lendering defines as “progress” in Iranian Studies, then the field is indeed in greater disarray than its present state.

On a more positive note however: some excellent recent works have appeared notably professor Briant’s interesting site about the Achamenid Empire (as Lendering avers):




There is also Professor Touraj Daryaee’s site on the Sassanian Empire and the recent promotion of Iranian Studies in Concordia University. Kaveh Farrokh is currently discussing with Dr. Hector Williams of the Classical Studies Program of the University of British Columbia and the Dabiri Foundation to establish a Chair of Iranian Studies there. But much more work needs to be done to rescue the dangerous decline of Iranian Studies, especially in comparison to the 1970s.