SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

R490-Zoroastrianism in the Ancient and Modern Worlds

Module Code:
158000029 -Not running 21/22
Module Not Running 2021/22
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3

The purpose of the course is to introduce students to Zoroastrianism - its doctrines, rituals and observances within a historical framework. The teachings of the religion will be discussed on the basis of the Zoroastrian sacred text, the Avesta, in the context of the Indo-Iranian religious system to which it belonged. The history of Zoroastrianism will be traced from its prehistoric roots in Indo-Iranian times through its development under the rule of three great Iranian empires, Achaemenian, Parthian and Sasanian, its gradual development into a minority religion after the Muslim conquest of Iran, the subsequent migration and re-settlement of a diaspora community in India, and from there up to the present day. Theological developments and issues of the contemporary communities will be treated within this historical context with particular reference to Zoroastrian literature. The modern history and adaptation of the religion in different cultural environments will be looked at mainly with reference to the Parsis in India, and the global Diaspora in such places as Britain, Canada and the USA.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • The study of the religion for its own sake.
  • Analysis of development of religion over millenia (1200 BCE - 200 CE)
  • Consideration of adaptation in different cultural environments (Iran, India,Global Diaspora)

Scope and syllabus

The course will fall into four unequal parts:

  • overview of Zoroastrian history
  • a study of early and 'classical' teachings of Zoroastrianism (good/evil, human nature and destiny)
  • the modern history and theology (focusing mostly on the Parsis)
  • the contemporary Diaspora in the West (Britain, Canada, USA, Australia, E. Africa and Hong Kong)

Method of assessment

  • 2 essays (3,000 words each) (20% each)
  • One 3 hour exam (60%)

Suggested reading

  • Hinnells, John R (1981) Zoroastrianism and the Parsis, London: Ward Lock Educational;
  • M. Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Manchester: University Press, 1984;
  • N.K. Firby, European Travellers and their Perceptions of Zoroastrians in the 17th and 18th centuries. Berlin 1988;
  • W.W. Malandra, An Introduction to Ancient Iranian Religion. Readings from the Avesta and the Achaemenid inscriptions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983;
  • R.C. Zaehner, The Teachings of the Magi. London: Sheldon Press, 1975 (a particularly readable introduction to Pahlavi literature).


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules