SOAS University of London

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

Zoroastrianism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Taught in:
Full Year

Zoroastrianism, known of old as 'the Persian religion', is one of the world's most ancient prophetic faiths and one of Iran's great contributions to the history of religious thought. It is deeply rooted in the prehistoric Indo-Iranian and, ultimately, Indo-European tradition and thus shares a common heritage with the Vedic religion and Hinduism. In its long history it has influenced many other religions, notably Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and, especially, Christianity. For over a thousand years it was the official religion of three great Iranian empires under the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sasanian rulers, extending at times from the Indus river to the coastline and islands of Asia Minor.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

The aim of this course is to give MA students of religions a clear understanding of the docterine and history of Zoroastrianism in a way that will enable them to establish interconnections with other courses that they are taking.

On completion of this course students will be able to:

  • demonstrate a clear understanding of the teachings and history of Zoroastrianism;
  • support their argument with references to primary sources;
  • asses critically divergent views put forward by different scholars.

Students will be expected to demonstrate this understanding by the completion of pieces of course work and by the ability to respond to unseen questions.

Scope and syllabus

The course will provide a survey of Zoroastrian doctrines, rituals and observances with reference to the Zoroastrian scriptures (Avestan and Pahlavi literature). It will be taught within a historical framework beginning with the Indo-Iranian religious system to which the prophet Zarathushtra belonged, and going on to trace the development of the religion under Persian rulers, its decline after the Islamic conquest of Iran and its revival on the Indian subcontinent. The course will also cover modern Zoroastrian thought and the ritual and devotional practices of Zoroastrians today.

Method of assessment

Coursework: two 2,500 word essays (worth 25% each); Assessment: one three hour exam (worth 50%)

Suggested reading

  • M. Boyce, “Zoroastrianism”. In: J.R. Hinnells (ed.), A new handbook of living religions. London-New York etc.: Penguin, 1997, pp.236–260.
  • M. Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices. London & New York: Routledge, 1979, 5th repr. 2000.
  • 1996).
  • J.R. Hinnells, Persian Mythology. London : Hamlyn, 1975.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules