SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Iran and the Persianiate world, 1800 to 1979

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2020/2021
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Term 2

This course studies the history of Persianate societies, politics, and socio-religious institutions from the rise of the Qajars in the end of the18th century up through the Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979. An ongoing endeavour throughout the course will be to interrogate the concept of a “Persian” or “Persianate” culture as it evolved in coordination with the related emergence of an Iranian national identity.

The course will proceed both chronologically and thematically, allowing students to trace a variety of important topics as they have unfolded throughout the history of the modern Persianate world. Such key themes include, the legacy of the Safavid state, Shi'ite political thought, minorities, messianism and its connection to Iranian protest and revolution, gender dynamics, Iranian modernities, Iranian nationalism, and constitutionalism.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  1. Gain insights into core issues in the history of Iran and the Persianate world from 1800 C.E. to 1979
  2. Acquire a strong understanding of the ways in which the key political, cultural, religious, and economic institutions characteristic of Persianate societies changed over time during the modern period
  3. Develop a thorough knowledge of pertinent historiography and key primary sources (in English translation)
  4. Demonstrate in writing the ability to critically assess prevailing approaches to the subjects covered and to account for the evolution of these various approaches over time
  5. Design and execute a long research project, which revolves around a feasible set of research questions that lead to a well-structured research essay using extensive secondary literature and, where appropriate, primary sources

Scope and syllabus

Week 1: Persia, the World System, and the Rise of the Qajar Empire
Week 2: Memories of Empire and Mounting Concessions to European Powers
Week 3: The Shi’i Ulama and the State after the Safavids
Week 4: Crafts, Urban Spiritual Fraternities, Masculinity, and Hooliganism: Safavid Legacy in the Qajar Age
Week 5: Re-scripting Revolution, part 1: Women and Gender Dynamics in the Qajar Period
Week 6: Re-scripting Revolution, part 2: Babism, Bahaism, Minorities, and Modern Messianism
Week 7: Social Transformations, Modernity, and Constitutionalism in Qajar Persia
Week 8: Pahlavi Iran: The Modern State, the Iranian Nation, and Historical Memory
Week 9: Protest and Performance: The Left and Shiʿite Revolutionary Thought
Week 10: Khomeini, Redemption, and the Islamic Revolution


Method of assessment

Essay of 3,000 words worth 80% of the final mark, Reaction paper/book review of 1,000 words worth 20% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Abrahamian, Ervand. A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008
  • Arjomand, Said Amir. The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: religion, political order, and societal change in Shi'ite Iran from the beginning to 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984
  • Iran in the 20th Century: Historiography and Political Culture. edited by Touraj Atabaki. London: I.B. Tauris, 2009
  • Maftūn, ʿAbd al-Razzāq Dunbulī. Dynasty of the Kajars (Maʾāthir-I Sulṭānīyah). Sir Harford Jones Brydges, trans. New York: Arno Press, 1973
  • Culture and Cultural Politics Under Reza Shah: The Pahlavi State, New Bourgeoisie and the Creation of a Modern Society in Iran. Eds. Bianca Devos and Christopher Werner. London: Routledge, 2014
  • Religion and Society in Qajar Iran, edited by Robert Gleave. London: Routledge Curzon, 2005
  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. The story of the daughters of Quchan : gender and national memory in Iranian history. 1st ed, Modern intellectual and political history of the Middle East. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1998
  • Society and Culture in Qajar Iran: Studies in Honor of Hafez Farmayan, edited by Elton L. Daniel. Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2002
  • Cole, Juan. Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha'i faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998
  • Martin, Vanessa. Iran Between Islamic Nationalism and Secularism: The Constitutional Revolution of 1906. London: I. B. Tauris, 2013


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules