PhD defence Zhinia Noorian: Iranian social, political and religious critique through poetry

Potloodportret van Parvin E'tesami. Bron: Sajami110, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī. Bron: Sajami110, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 7 November, Zhinia Noorian will defend her thesis ‘Sapling of Hope’, in which she focuses on the work of Iranian poet Parvīn Iᶜtiṣāmī ( also known as Parvin E’tesami, 1907-1941). Iᶜtiṣāmī’s mystic-didactic poetry holds a special place within both Persian literary culture and the daily lives of her readers in Iran.

Living tradition

Iᶜtiṣāmī’s work has become part of the Iranian tradition of delivering social, political and religious criticism through poetry, Noorian writes. Raising issues through poetry avoids problems with the authorities.

Iᶜtiṣāmī used her verses to criticise issues that are still relevant today: women’s and workers’ rights and the sham piety and hypocrisy of Iran’s religious authorities.

Reviled and admired

Because Iᶜtiṣāmī denounced the patriarchal limits of masculine Islamic culture, she was both reviled and admired in Iran.

People could not believe that a woman wrote such beautiful poems. At the same time, Iᶜtiṣāmī is one of the few poets whose work is used as didactic material in school curricula both before and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.


Paradoxically, Iᶜtiṣāmī’s critical work is used today by the Iranian authorities to gain legitimacy. Even the leader of the Islamic Republic, Ali Kamenei, approves of her poetry.

The Iranian authorities, like Ali Khamenei, ignore the poems in which Iᶜtiṣāmī criticizes religious and political corruption and addresses social issues. They particularly select her mystical poetry, for which she was ostracized as a woman who entered the masculine world of mysticism.

By introducing Iᶜtiṣāmī  as a pious woman, the authorities can use these poems out of context to legitimise their oppression in the name of religion.

Start date and time
End date and time
Utrecht University Hall, Domplein 29 & online (via this link)
PhD candidate
Zhinia Noorian
Sapling of Hope
PhD supervisor(s)
Prof. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab
More information