SOAS University of London

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

The Zoroastrian Flame

Module Code:
158000187
Credits:
15
FHEQ Level:
6
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

The module provides an overview of the ancient world where the religion took root and 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 literature that includes the Middle Persian (Pahlavi) books. These include philosophical treatises closely connected with the Zoroastrian religion and world-view. Concepts such as Good and Evil, the relationship between spiritual and material, the meaning and purpose of existence are questions which Zoroastrian philosophy approaches in a context of a religion whose beginnings go back over three thousand years. The post-Islamic period witnesses 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 process of secularisation and modernisation is looked at with reference to the modern Zoroastrian diaspora.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • Develop a critical awareness of the dynamic range of philosophical traditions and the intellectual value of expanding the horizons of western philosophy through exposure to philosophical traditions of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
  • Develop a deep 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 of Zoroastrian philosophy and its influence on world religious thought
  • Trace an outline of Zoroastrianism in a historical context
  • Analyse the source materials for the study of religion
  • Differentiate between oral and written texts

Workload

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, 1000 words (25%) 
  • AS2-Essay, 3,000 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.

Disclaimer

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