nl en

Literature and Politics in the Persian-speaking World


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, specialisation Persian Studies or the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), with sufficient level of reading skills in Persian (level B2 European Common Framework). Please, contact the student advisor, Nicole A.N.M. van Os or Dr. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab , if you are interested in taking this course, but NOT a student admitted to one of the above-mentioned master programmes or if you are not confident regarding your level of Persian.


This course is a weekly seminar, focusing on the influence of historical developments on modern Iranian society. For each seminar, students are required to read in advance selections from secondary literature and to analyze a limited number of passages from the primary sources. Each session consists of two hours. In the first hour a general lecture is given and in the remaining hour, the students discuss a topic ranging from introduction of western political philosophy, to Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911), Aryanism, social reform movements, position of women, anti-imperialism, pan-Islamism, Islam and democracy, etc . Each student is expected to give two presentations on a specific topic from the overview.

Course objectives

One of the chief objectives of this course is to acquire insight into the way literature is used as a means of communication to communicate various political views to a broad public in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Indo-Pakistani sub-continent.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

The course consists of twelve seminars. For each seminar, students are required to read in advance selections from secondary literature and to analyze a limited number of passages from the primary sources. Each session consists of two hours with one short break. The first hour is a general lecture while during the remaining hour, the students discuss their translations and analyses of a text. Each student is expected to give one presentation on a specific topic from the programme below. The final assignment for this course is an essay of 3,000 words, part of which should be an annotated translation of a literary text. Both primary and secondary literature are available from the lecturer. Students are responsible for their own photocopies of the texts.

Assessment method

  • Presentations (40%)

  • Paper of 3,000 words (60%).



Reading list

Subject to change!

  1. Constitutional Revolution and Secularization
    M. Kia, “Constitutionalism, Economic Modernization and Islam in the writings of Mirza Yusef Khan Mostashar od-Dowle,” Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 30, no. 4, October 1994, pp. 751-777; “Mustashâr ad-Dowla’s letter to Muzaffar ad-Dîn Shah” in One Word – Yak Kaleme (ed. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, 2011). [bilingual ed. Pers. orig. / Engl. transl.]

  2. Clergy’s role in constitutional movement
    Abdul-Hadi Hairi, Shi’ism and Constitutionalism in Persia: a Study of the Role Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Persian Politics, Leiden: Brill, 1977;
    Sh. Akhavi, Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980, 23-59.

    1. ‘Az mâst ke bar mâst’: Modernity and Tradition
      H. Algar, Mirza Malkum Khan: A Study in the History of Iranian Modernism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973, pp. 139-40;
      S.A. Arjomand, “The Reform Movement and the debate on Modernity and tradition in Contemporary Iran,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 34, 2002, 719-31.

4-5. Occidentalism:
M. Boroujerdi, Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism, Syracuse / New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996;
M.R. Ghanoonparvar, In a Persian Mirror: Images of the west and Westerners in Iranian Fiction, Austin, University of Texas Press, 1993;
J. Al-i Ahmad, “Westoxication” (343-57), in: Contemporary Debates in Islam: an Anthology of Modernist and Fundamentalist Thought, eds. M. Moaddel and K. Talattof, London: Macmillan Press LTD, 2000.

  1. Aryanism – Islamism:
    A. Marashi, Nationalizing Iran: culture, power, and the state, 1870-1940, Washington 2008, chapt. 2 “Nationalizing Pre-Islamic Iran”.

Optional/Background: L. Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas in Europe, New York 1996.

7-10. Islam and “Third-Worldism”:

F. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth [transl. of French orig. Les Damnés de la Terre]. 1963;
A. Shariati, “Critical Attitude towards the west and the Idea of western Decadence” (315-23),
A. Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian: a Political Biography of Ali Shariati, London: Tauris, 1998 (pbk 2000).

  1. Feminism & the Constitutional Revolution:
    F. Milani, Veils and Words: the Emerging Voices of Iranian Women Writers, Syracuse / New York: Syracuse University Press, 1992;
    Parvin E’tesami, Divan, Tehran, 1962, pp. 117-20 (Jula-ye Khoda, ‘God’s Weaver’).

  2. Women Poets:
    J. Afary, The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911: Grassroots Democracy, Social Democracy, and the Origins of Feminism, New York, 1996.
    Zhale Qaem-Maqami, Divan, e.d N. Zera’ati, Sweden, 1999, p. 171. (Pishgu’I dar bare-ye azadi-ye zanan, ‘Prediction on Women’s Freedom’)

11-12. Iran – Iraq war / literature:
N. Farzad, “Qeysar Aminpur and the Persian Poetry of Sacred Defence” in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2007 (34:3), 351–374.
A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, “Martyrdom as Piety: Mysticism and National Identity in Iran-Iraq War Poetry”, in Der Islam 2012 (87), 248–273.

Optional/Background: Gary G. Sick – Lawrence G. Potter, Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War, New York 2004;


Registration via uSis.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply


Dr. J.T.L. Cheung


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accomodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).