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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, i.e. at least 80 EC = 2240 hs of language courses at BA level). A limited number of students without knowledge of Persian will be allowed.
Please, contact the student advisor 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 (student with no knowledge of Persian will read sources in translation). 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 Iranian women, anti-imperialism, pan-Islamism, Islam and democracy, etc. Each student is expected to give one presentation 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 to communicate various political views to a broad public in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Indo-Pakistani sub-continent. The students acquire knowledge on the interaction between politics and literature in the Persianate world. In addition, the students learn how to contextualize literary philosophical, and religious works in a wide range of modern political domains. They also learn how to present orally and in writing their findings to a specialist and broader audience.

Graduates of the programme have attained the following learning outcomes, listed according to the Dublin descriptors:

Graduates will:

a1. Knowledge and understanding
a. possess comprehensive knowledge of and skills in the area of history, literature, culture or religion of the Middle-East;
b. possess the ability to use the relevant primary and secondary literature;
c. have acquired various skills including independent academic thinking and acting, analyzing complex issues; and be able to report academically sound;
d. have acquired academic knowledge, insight, and skills in theories and methods used in various fields such as social sciences, literary studies, and anthropology, and be able to apply this knowledge to the field of Middle Eastern Studies.

a2. Applying knowledge and understanding
a) have the ability to make use of knowledge acquired at different courses in their specific field in their theses, but also in their further career with tasks such as teaching, supervising, consulting, writing, translating and editing;
b) have the ability to use the knowledge in policy making and public relations, as the majority of graduates of a non-European language and culture in their professional career deal with foreign people;
c) have acquired knowledge and understanding, geared towards problem-solving in new or unfamiliar environments within a broader scholarly and applied context.

a3. Judgment
a) are able to identify and formulate an original research question, to analyze primary and secondary sources, and to draw conclusions;
b) have the ability to gauge scholarly publications in the field critically;
c) are able to write and present orally clarifications and explanations of implicit issues related to the state of the art of the field of research: concepts, ideas, theses and hypotheses;
d) are able to integrate the knowledge and understanding they have acquired during the study for handling complexity, and formulating judgments;
e) have the ability to reflect on the academic, social and ethical responsibilities that arise from the field of Middle Eastern Studies.

a4. Communication
a) are able to present the result of independent research not only in writing but also through oral presentations both for a general and professional public;
b) are able to contribute to a public debate communicating the conclusions of their scholarly research, knowledge and understanding of the Middle East to an audience beyond traditional academia;
c) have learned to academically contribute to the field of research.

a5. Learning skills have developed abilities to follow post-master’s professional training or a PhD training of a largely self-determined or autonomous nature.
In addition to the achievement levels above, the following achievement levels per specialisation apply:

b3. Modern Middle East Studies
General knowledge and understanding of the cultures, literatures and religions of the strategically important Middle Eastern regions with a focus on the modern period.
In-depth knowledge and understanding of the Modern Middle East, depending on the choices of the student, either directed at the Middle East in general, or at one of the regions of the Middle East in depth.

B4. Persian Studies
Knowledge and understanding of the history, literature, politics, religion and Persian visual arts of the Persian cultural realm from the advent of Islam to the present day.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Attendance and participation are obligatory. Classes missed for a good reason (to the discretion of the conveners and to be discussed BEFORE the class takes place) will have to be made up with an extra assignment.

Each session consists of two hours. Students are required to read, in advance, selections from secondary, scholarly literature and to prepare several passages from a manuscript (a xeroxed copy of the relevant pages will be made available to the students).

Being absent without notification or failing to prepare the home work can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term paper and a failing grade for the course.

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.

  • The course comprises 10 EC and the total course load is thus 280 hrs

  • 26 hrs of the course will be spent on attending the class (2 hrs x 13 weeks)

  • 52 hrs are to be spent on homework, i.e. reading the literature and studying the passages from the manuscript

  • 30 hrs are set aside for the 2 presentations (prep. & 15 min. talk),

  • 172 hours need to be spent on the final paper.

Assessment method

  • Presentations (40%)

  • Paper of 3,000 words (60%).

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.



Website Persian Studies

Reading list

A detailed list or readings per week will be provided at the start of the course.
The following topics will be discussed. This programme is provisional and may be subject to change.

  1. Constitutional Revolution (1905-11) and Secularization
    1. Clergy’s Role in Constitutional Movement
    2. Modernity and Tradition
      4-5. Orientalism versus Occidentalism Jalal Al-e Ahmad
    3. Aryanism – Islamism:
      7-10. Islam and “Third-Worldism”:
    4. The Rise of Iranian Feminism & the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11)
    5. Women Poets:
      11-12. Politics and Literatures of the Iran – Iraq War (1980-1988)


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

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

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.


Dr. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab


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 accommodations 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).