SOAS University of London

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

The Zoroastrian Flame

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2021/2022
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

The module is divided into two parts. The first part provides a chronological overview beginning with the ancient world where the religion took root and an examination of the Zoroastrian religious texts, which were in oral transmission for centuries before being committed to writing. The entry of Zoroastrianism into recorded history and the notion of ‘religion and kingship’ are explored within the context of Imperial Iran. The centuries after the Arab conquest of Iran during which time Zoroastrianism was in retreat before Islam are studied with reference to the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) books that include philosophical treatises closely connected with the Zoroastrian religion and world-view. The post-Islamic period witnessed the growth of the New Persian language and the composition of literature in New Persian such as the epic Shahnameh. The exodus of Zoroastrians to India, where they became known as the Parsis, and their growth under British colonial rule is viewed within the framework of a religious minority adapting to the majority religion whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

The second part of the module is devoted to religio-philosophical themes. For example, the centrality of fire in Zoroastrian doctrine and ritual, the way in which Zoroastrian philosophy approaches concepts such as Good and Evil, the relationship between the spiritual and material worlds and the meaning and purpose of existence.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to:

  •  Trace an outline of Zoroastrianism in a historical context.
  •  Discuss Zoroastrianism as both a majority and minority religion.
  •  Develop an understanding of a range of culturally specific systems of thought and the ability to converse in more than one intellectual language or system of thought.
  •  Gain an understanding of the key elements in Zoroastrian philosophy and its influence on world religious thought.
  •  Understand the complex evolution of the languages both ancient and modern as a vehicle for the transmission of knowledge.
  •  Differentiate between oral and written texts and the relationship between orality and performance.
  •  Gain practical skills with respect to the collection of qualitative data and interview techniques


A total of 10 weeks teaching with one hour lecture and one hour tutorial per week.

Scope and syllabus

The module is designed for students with little or no knowledge of Zoroastrianism. It complements courses in Persian language and the ancient languages of the Zoroastrian religion, Avestan and Pahlavi. It looks at the propagation of religio-philosophical ideas in the popular imagination (literary and visual).

Method of assessment

  • AS1-Essay, 500 words (25%) 
  • AS2-Essay, 2,000 words (65%)
  • Seminar attendence and participation (10%)

Suggested reading

  • M. Boyce, Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism. Manchester: University Press, 1984.
  • J. Rose, The Image of Zoroaster: the Persian mage through European eyes. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press.
  • S. Shaked, Dualism in Transformation: varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • S. Stewart, Voices from Zoroastrian Iran, Oral Texts and Testimony. Vol. I: Urban Centres. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2018.
  • R.C. Zaehner, The Teachings of the Magi. London: Sheldon Press, 1975.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules