Islam and intellectual traditions in the Iranian world

Dance of Sufi Dervishes, The Metropolitam Museum of Arts
Dance of Sufi Dervishes (Picture: Metropolitan Museum of Art (public domain))

Utrecht University is home to luminaries such as Adriaan Reland (1676–1718) who stimulated the study of Persian intellectual traditions, including religion, literature and language. Today, we study Persian as a supranational language, used in religion, mysticism, philosophy, art and literature by Muslim communities from India to the Balkans.

In addition to studying textual traditions, we examine the reception history of movements and networks of key intellectuals in different historical periods: medieval, modern and contemporary. We study classical masters in the Persian literary tradition such as Ferdowsi, Hafez and Rumi and their impact in modern societies. They have shaped people’s secular and religious identities. We also investigate the role of gender and sexuality, analysing, for instance, how Persian poetry provides women with a platform for empowerment, amplifying their marginalized voices and enabling them to criticize patriarchal norms.

We also examine Iran’s pivotal role in Middle Eastern politics, considering its Shiite intellectual traditions and interactions with other religious communities. We investigate the impact of the 1979-Revolution on the Middle East and the wider region, the development of political Islam, and the cult of martyrdom. Furthermore, we explore Iran’s grappling with tensions between secularism and theocrasy in a historical perspective, researching how Iran’s complex socio-political landscape navigates between a strong religious tradition and secular aspirations.