The Idea of Iran: Iran in Transition to a New World Order

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Virtual Event
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About this event

The eighteenth century saw the collapse of the Safavid Empire that had given Iran a long period of relative peace and stability and growing, closer encounters with Europeans and European interests. The following decades present a chaotic spectrum of disintegration and recovery, contraction, expansion and competing dynastic entities as power was contested between Nader and the Afsharids in the East, the Zands in the south, and the ultimately triumphant Qajars in the North.

All this, at a time when Europe also was going through major changes, both political and economic – the Agricultural and Industrial revolutions and the French Revolution and its permanent threat to the authoritarianism of the ancient regimes. Iran was given a wide berth by travellers and merchants in view of the prevailing insecurity – attention shifted ever more to India. When Iran emerged from its private isolation, it entered a new world dominated by expanding European powers; among the many consequences were the remorseless losses of territories in the North and East, by the end of which Iran took on the outlines of its present borders.

While generally viewed as a period of regression and decline, it is not surprising that the late eighteenth century has not been much studied, and the artistic and scientific achievements and socio-economic developments of the period overlooked. With the establishment of the relatively stable Qajar dynasty from 1797, it was easy to look back on the Safavid world as a golden age and to trace all later developments to their Safavid origins.

What does the Idea of Iran mean at this period? Can we discern the ways that contemporaries viewed their traditions and their environment (natural or built); what was the view of outsiders, and how does modern scholarship define the distinctive aspects of the period? These are some of the questions we hope to explore in the symposium dedicated to this complex and difficult period from which Iran emerged with a curtailed presence in the new world order.

Convened by Charles Melville, University of Cambridge and Sarah Stewart, SOAS.

The Centre for Iranian Studies, the Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies, SOAS and the Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge remain deeply grateful to the Soudavar Memorial Foundation for their continued support for this series.


  • Firuza Abdullaeva, University of Cambridge
  • Assef Ashraf, University of Cambridge
  • Kevin Gledhill, Yale University
  • Kianoosh Motaghedi, Artist and Islamic Art researcher
  • Sajjad Nejatie, University of Toronto
  • Janet O’Brien, The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • John Perry, University of Chicago
  • Fatema Soudavar Farmanfarmaian, Soudavar Memorial Foundation
  • Ernest Tucker, US Naval Academy


Admission: Free

This year's symposium will be held virtually over Zoom.


Centre for Iranian Studies , the Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies, SOAS and the Shahnama Centre for Persian Studies, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge .

Sponsor: Soudavar Memorial Foundation

Image: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.: Gift of A. Soudavar in memory of his mother Ezzat-Malek Soudavar, S2014.17.89a-b

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