SOAS University of London

SOAS scholar to digitise interviews documenting lives of Zoroastrians since 1979

13 March 2017

SOAS University of London has received a donation of £2,500 from The Patron’s Fund, a fund established to acknowledge the work of the charitable organisations for which Her Majesty The Queen acts as a Patron, on the occasion of her 90th birthday.

The Patron’s fund gift will support the digitisation of over three hundred interviews, mainly in the Dari language, recorded as part of a research project on contemporary Zoroastrian communities in Iran.

Dr Sarah Stewart, Lecturer in the Department of Religions and Philosophies, received a British Academy Research Grant to undertake the project. With her researcher, a former SOAS student Mandana Moavenat, Dr Stewart travelled to seven cities as well as to all the remaining Zoroastrian villages across Iran to record the oral testimony of Zoroastrians from all walks of life: priests, laymen, city and urban dwellers. The aim of the project was to document the changes that had occurred in the religious and social lives of Zoroastrians since the Revolution of 1979.

Zoroastrian village, Iran

Zoroastrian village of Zeinabad

The interviews have created a living map of Zoroastrianism in Iran and the archive will preserve at least 20 to 25 of the remaining Dari dialects. The Dari of Yazd and its dialectical variations are still spoken in the villages of the Yazdi plain. But these are gradually being abandoned for the cities, and a new generation is using more Persian words, especially in digital communication. Consequently, these interviews provide a rich linguistic archive for future research. They will also enable future generations of Zoroastrians in the diaspora to listen to the language spoken by their forebears in Iran.

The digitisation of the recordings will be made available to coincide with the publication of the research by Dr Stewart. All 300 interviews will be transferred to the Endangered Languages Archive of the SOAS Library. Other collections of recordings from Parsi priests in Bombay and Gujarat as well as older recordings from priests in Iran have been already been committed to the Archive. This will establish a world resource of Zoroastrian material in Dari, Persian and Gujarati languages at SOAS.

Sofreh

Zoroastrian sofreh spread in a private home

The Endangered Language Archive is a digital repository preserving and publishing endangered language documentation materials from around the world, and is at the forefront in making endangered language collections available in digital formats.

As an institution, SOAS is recognised globally for its studies of Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The SOAS Library holds invaluable academic resources for the studies of these cultures and myriad languages. Digital technologies allow researchers to collect and preserve material –written and oral – including endangered and lesser-spoken global languages and dialects.

With the benefit of the Queen’s Patron’s Fund gift this invaluable language digitisation project will go ahead, preserving one of the world's endangered languages for all time. The Fund received around £750,000 in donations from a number of supporters including individual donors, businesses, schools and community groups raised by way of The Patron’s Lunch in June 2016. SOAS is one of 300 charities and organisations in the UK and the Commonwealth to have received a gift from the Fund.