Prof. dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab

Islam and Arabic
Religious Studies

Asghar Seyed-Gohrab is Professor of Iranian and Persian Studies at the University of Utrecht, and fellow of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and a former fellow of the Young Academy (2007-2012) at KNAW. His research covers fields such as Persian poetry as a living tradition, Islamic mysticism (Sufism), and the history of Shiism. Central to Seyed-Gohrab’s research is the study of medieval Persian poetry (both secular and religious) and its reception in the modern world, examining how medieval poetry, mystical concepts and philosophical notions are deployed in modern Iranian politics, in popular culture, in visual representations, and in social media. 

At the moment, he is the Principal Investigator of the ERC-Advanced Grant project entitled Beyond Sharia: The Role of Sufism in Shaping Islam which examines the emergence, flourishing and lasting appeal of non-conformist movements in Islamic intellectual history from the tenth century to the present day. It investigates how Islamic antinomian movements consolidated Islam in a vast region from the Balkans to Bengal, while offering methods of self-reflection that allowed for critical thinking within Islamic streams of thought. By examining how generations of Islamic mystics and intellectuals in the Persianate world challenged, redefined or rejected Islamic canonical law in their poetic, artistic, philosophical and political writings and teachings, this project generates significant new insights into transgression in Islam.

In his previous research (funded by Dutch Research Council NWO), Seyed-Gohrab examined the use of classical Persian poetry and medieval mystical and philosophical concepts in three central episodes in twentieth-century Iran. At the time of the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11), poetry became a vehicle for introducing Western social and political ideas. During the Iranian Revolution (1978-79), ayatollah Khomeini used poetry to express his mystical ideals; he also used mystical concepts in order to buttress his theory of Islamic government. During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), poetry became part of the state propaganda, supporting the cult of martyrdom, which in the crisis became an icon of national identity and a means to justify violence. Poetry was also used on an intensely personal level, to process the horrors and quandaries of revolution and war. All three episodes were marked by a paradox: the constitutionalists struggled for political and economic independence from the same nations that inspired social and political reforms during the Constitutional Revolution; the mystic-poet Khomeini would not hurt a fly but his political ideology was ruthless; and mystical ideals of peacefulness and everlasting life were used in the Iran-Iraq war to incite people to violence, or even give up their own lives. 

Persian and Iranian Studies
Inaugural lecture date