Iran, formerly called Persia in the West, has over 74 million inhabitants and is one of the oldest nations in the world. Situated in the heart of Western Asia or the “Middle East,” with a rich and diverse history dating back to 625 BC, it has more recently been in the forefront of global news since the onslaught of the Islamic Revolution in 1977-1979, and determines international relations and the geopolitics of the region at large. With their interest in Iranian Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and the Middle Eastern Studies Program (MESP) make Rutgers one of the few institutions in North America that has a direct focus on the study of Iran. Throughout the program, faculty emphasize an interdisciplinary approach that allows them to place Iran in its immediate geographical, political, and cultural contexts in the Middle Eastern, Muslim and larger world. The CMES and MESP think of this approach as “trans-national Iranian Studies.”
Faculty and student research interests on Iran correspond to a wide range of Persian history, culture, and politics. At the African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures Department (AMESALL), within the Persian language program, research in Persian literature encompasses a wide range of topics from classical narrative, heroic and romantic epics, medieval poetry, and satire, to the modern genres of novels, the short story, and the post-revolutionary literature of war and revolution. The MESP is home to two scholars of Iran. Golbarg Bashi’s research interests include the theories and practices of human rights in Iran and the Muslim world, modern Iranian social and intellectual history, and women’s rights movements in Iran and in a comparative context. Fakhrolmolouk Haghani focuses upon the comparative cultural, intellectual, and social history of the contemporary Middle East (with specific reference to Egypt and Iran). Her scholarship combines interdisciplinary, transnational, and comparative theoretical and methodological approaches including women’s and gender studies, media and performance studies, and cultural studies. Charles Haberl is one of a small number of scholars currently engaged in research on the Mandaean community of Iraq and Iran, documenting their language, literature, and religion, which is the only surviving Gnostic sect from the period of Late Antiquity.
Interest in Iranian Studies is not limited to MESP and AMESALL. The Department of Religion has faculty researching medieval Sufi texts written in Arabic and Persian, the poetry of Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273), and translations of his magnum opus, the Masnavi. The Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy (BPPP) offers courses on global restructuring and public policy, international economic development, and national and regional development planning and policy, which touch on topics associated with Iran. It is also home to a dialogue scholar, Hooshang Amirahmadi, who works toward building a relationship between the United States and Iran. In addition, there are other scholars affiliated with CMES and MESP whose research relates to Iran within the departments of Religion, Art History, and Journalism and Media Studies.
CMES has hosted public conferences and faculty workshops dedicated to topics related to Iranian Studies, and the ongoing addition of books to the library collection has increased awareness of Iran and an appreciation of the cultural heritage and history of Iranians and the Iranian language speaking world (including other countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan). In 2007, CMES was the recipient of a US Department of Education Title VI-A Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language (UISFL) Grant to enhance contemporary Iranian Studies at Rutgers.