SOAS University of London

Centre for Iranian Studies

Looking Back: Zoroastrian Identity Formation Through Recourse to the Past

Looking Back Conference Image

Date: 11 October 2013Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 12 October 2013Time: 5:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Conference

A two-day international conference to coincide with the Brunei Gallery's current exhibition The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination

Throughout their long history Zoroastrians have referred to and relied upon notions of what is traditional and authoritative in order to conserve their identity. This has been a process of reconnecting in every generation to what is received and recovered from the past - whether it be religious texts teachings and practices, or stories of past events both historical and mythical. However, tradition is not a simple or static phenomenon; it is ongoing, accumulative and responsive to the need for change in social and cultural contexts.

Though now it is one of the smallest religious faiths in the world, Zoroastrianism is a microcosm of a great range of religious history, as it spans three millennia of changing conditions. For several centuries it enjoyed imperial patronage, and then for much of its history since the Islamic conquest, it was subordinated to the status of a minority religion in Iran, and was at times variously suppressed and tolerated, as it did not formally meet the requirements to qualify for the status of ahl-e ketāb. In India, since the early 9th century, the émigré community of Parsis enjoyed religious freedom, and in the modern period has achieved great economic success. Like many religious communities Iranian and Parsi Zoroastrians now form diasporic communities all around the globe.

In this two day conference we examine patterns of identity formation in ancient, medieval and more recent periods, looking at how texts, traditions, icons, rituals, stories and symbols have been used to form Zoroastrian identities. Participants in the conference are invited to consider the general theme with regard to one or more of the key topics listed below in their field of study, better to understand the processes of religious and cultural identity formation, continuity and development:

    The notion of ‘return’ to the past (Persian bāstāngarā’ī, i.e. the phenomenon in modern Iranian history of return to ancient traditions) and its consequences for Zoroastrians and their cultures.
    Concepts of tradition, authority, orthodoxy, continuity, change, origins, conservatism and innovation in Zoroastrian (Iranian and Parsi) religion and culture.
    The Avesta and Zand and their significance for the tradition.
    Enduring Zoroastrian symbols and iconic forms in art and architecture.
    The Zoroastrian relationship with ‘Iran’ and its ethnic and imperial past.
    Minority status: preserving cultural and religious identity balanced with maintaining good relations with the majority religion.
    The role of the past in the contemporary problem of balancing traditional elements of Zoroastrian culture with the processes of secularisation and modernisation in a global context.
    Contemporary Iranian Muslim and secular artistic rediscovery of the pre-Islamic heritage.

Please see the full conference programme attached on the right-hand side.

Admission: £30/£20 (concessions and LMEI affiliates)/Students free. Pre-registration required. To register please visit the SOAS Online Store. Students wishing to register should e-mail Vincenzo Paci in order to secure a place as we expect the conference to be very popular:

Organiser: Centre for Iranian Studies

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Contact Tel: 020 7898 4330 / 4490