Persian Studies at the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia can take pride in being one of the few American academic institutions that has offered courses in Persian language and literature for four decades.  In addition to being a long-standing program, the Persian Program at the University of Virginia has been recognized as one of the strongest Persian programs nationwide.  Professor Michael Houdson of Georgetown University reported in his assessment that “Persian Studies…  is an asset to the University, particularly as UVa strives for more ‘international’ capabilities and recognition.


The UVa Persian Program seeks to promote greater awareness and appreciation of the cultural richness of an ancient civilization; at the same time, it seeks to foster a better understanding of contemporary Iran. Our program focuses principally on Iranian studies; however it bears mention that as the official language in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Persian has been designated a “critical language” and has become a crucial area of study for many students seeking degrees in Politics and Foreign Affairs. Persian is also widely spoken in at least thirteen more countries (Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel, Bahrain, Canada, Russia, and Kuwait).  


Two years of Persian language instruction (Elementary and Intermediate Persian) provide proficiency in areas of comprehension, conversation, reading, and writing.  In the third year of Persian study, students explore the intricacies and complexities of the Persian language through the introduction of original literary works—prose and poetry, classical and modern.  Larger social, political, historical, and cultural aspects of literary production in Persian are emphasized in a variety of literature courses. 


The faculty and the course offerings of the Persian Studies program at the University of Virginia bridge multiple disciplines. Our interdisciplinary program offers not only multi-level courses in Persian language and literature, spanning the period from the birth of the language as a literary force to contemporary times, we also offer courses in: classical and contemporary literature in English translation; women’s studies; cinema; and philology.


The Persian program offers two categories of courses: (PERS) classes taught in Persian; (PETR) Persian literature in translation classes. This allows students to both acquire specialized knowledge in the language and to explore varied interests in literary, philosophical, cultural, and historical aspects of Persian literature through the study of translated works.


Persian Faculty


Persian Language Program Coordinator

Mahshad Mohit
143 New Cabell Hall
Phone: (434) 924-4641



Course Descriptions (Regular and Occasional Course Offerings)




Elementary Persian (Full course/one year):

This course introduces students (both non-heritage and heritage learners) to the Persian language. While developing proficiency in reading, writing, comprehending, and speaking modern Persian through communicative methods, students acquire an understanding of grammar that is well integrated into their language usage.  Dialogs and reading texts are geared toward facilitating practical mastery of basic skills.


Intermediate Persian (Full course/one year)

This course is a continuation of Introduction to Persian. After completing this course, students should be able to read authentic texts of various kinds (with the aid of a dictionary).  Although there is emphasis on rapidly improving reading comprehension and the course is much more grammar intensive than Elementary Persian, attaining greater proficiency in speaking, listening comprehension, and writing remains essential to successful completion of the course. Intermediate Persian prepares the student for in-depth textual study and analysis that will occur in the ensuing years of Persian study at UVA.


Advanced Conversational Persian: An Oral Exegesis of Text and other Discourses

This course engages students intensively in oral expression of the Persian language. Students present talks, arguments, and oral discourse about a variety of topics. The ultimate goal of this course is to improve the student’s ability to converse in standard Persian. Through the study of a very diverse selection of themes, genres, and readings, students will have practice discussing many subjects in the Persian language.


Introduction to Classical Persian Literature

This course serves as an intensive introduction to Classical Persian philology.  Textual analysis of works enables students to gain a strong grounding in Persian literary history. This is a comprehensive introduction to Persian poetry and prose from the 10th to the 18th centuries. Emphasizing the history and development of Persian poetry and prose, this advanced-level language course introduces various formal elements of the Persian literary tradition. It analyzes literary texts and explores the linguistic structure, fine grammatical points, and syntactic intricacies of classical Persian.


Classical Persian Prose

Classical Persian prose has been heralded widely for its thematic range and rhetorical significance.  For over a thousand years, the literati have compiled a rich treasury of Persian prose.  Its thematic range includes philosophy, religion, history, and other genres.  This course will afford an introductory glimpse into some of the better-known works of prose in Persian literature. 


Firdawsi’s Shahnamah

Shahnamah, 'The Epic of Kingship', is perhaps the most heralded epic work in the history of Persian verse. The imagery in the Shahnamah is some of the finest in Persian verse. Rhetorically, it is a tour-de-force imbued with historico-ethical puns. This course approaches this indispensable work of poetic genius on several levels: historical, literary, and linguistic. An insight into the Shahnamah will afford students a deeper understanding of contemporary Iranian life and thought, as this work is ever-so-present in the mainstream discourse of Iranian society.


Readings in Modern Persian Prose Fiction

This advanced Persian course is designed for students who have completed at least two years of Persian language study or the equivalent. As such, the primary aim of the course is to facilitate language acquisition. However, the assigned texts are also examined as literature in this class. PERS 3020 explores the development of modern Persian prose fiction and its relationship to a changing society. Course readings are comprised of writing by major contemporary authors.


Introduction to Modern Persian Literature

This course addresses the development of modern(ist) trends in Persian literature, emphasizing historical and socio-political factors. Exemplar modern poems, stories, and essays are read in the original, then explained and critically evaluated. Defines and discusses significant ideas, ideologies, movements, trends, milieus, social backgrounds, etc., out of which modern Persian literature emerged. 


The Life and Poetry of Forugh Farrokhzād

This course focuses on the life and art of Forugh Farrokhzad in a spectrum of genres that includes poetry, short stories, travel narratives, literary criticism, essays, and films by and about her. Although from the beginning of her literary career, Farrokhzad was a daring, often irreverent explorer of taboo topics, she was also deeply rooted in the Iranian culture. We study the body of her work to better understand the subversive nature of its subject matter, technique, or point of view, as well as its simple, unpretentious, and lucid language. We also examine the rhetoric and poetics of sex segregation, voice, choice, visibility, and mobility in order to gain a more coherent view of the social, political, and cultural realities of Iran in the 1950s and 60s.




History of Iranian Literature

This course introduces the many stages of Persian literature historically. History of Iranian Literature is a study in the marriage of thought, milieu, genius, and multi-faceted poetics.


Introduction to Persian Sufism

This course introduces students to the many theoretical, literary, and philosophical aspects of Sufism in Iran. It is an introductory discourse into the lexicon and philosophy of Sufism in Iran and the Persian-speaking World.


Contemporary Persian Literature in Translation

This course examines the evolution of twentieth-century Persian prose by charting the development of two features that distinguish many modernist works in the Iranian context: 1) recourse to representations of western cultures as a means of social critique and/or self-appraisal; 2) transformation of “imported” western genres. Readings include works by several of Iran’s most prominent authors: Sadeq Hedayat, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Simin Daneshvar, Goli Taraqqi, and Shahrnush Parsipur.


Rumi’s Mathnavi

The inter-textuality so predominant in Iranian mysticism points to a rhetoric that is rich and intellectually diverse.  Arguably, no other text in Iranian literary history has been more influential in this realm than Rumi’s Mathnavi. In contemporary times, certainly Rumi’s works have gained prominence worldwide. He is now recognized as one of the best-selling poets in America. Jalal al-Din Rumi personifies mysticism and theosophy in Iran because of the many textual channels he engages and employs. This serves as a good introduction to Sufism in Iran.


Attar’s Conference of the Birds

Attar's famous poetic Sufi manifesto stands second only to Rumi's Mathnavi. However, it must be noted that with respect to elaboration of the intricacies of systematic and enigmatic Sufi development, no other work is valuable as the 'Discourse of the Birds'. This course involves an analytical and thematic parsing of Attar's very famous Sufi treatise (Mantiq al-Tayr). The influences of this magnificent treatise will be thoroughly discussed.


Iranian Women Writers

In the old and turbulent history of Iran, women have relied on words as their weapon of choice to struggle for peace and justice.  Their foremother, Scheherazade, knew the futility of fighting injustice with violence.  Like Scheherazade, Iranian women writers continue to find solace and strength in the limitless power of words. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Iranian women writers have desegregated a predominantly all-male literary tradition.  They have also been at the forefront of a bloodless social movement.  At home and in Diaspora, they have produced highly acclaimed bestsellers, touching the hearts and minds of an international reading public on an unprecedented scale.  This course studies this inspiring presence on the world stage through a variety of genre and, in particular, life narratives.


Poetics of Existentialist Persian Literature

The main objective of this course is the study of cognitive nuances which make up the thematic and linguistic parameters of texts that deal with existentialist issues. The quantitative and very mathematical nature of Persian meter and prosody will be analyzed. Every class will have a parallel analysis of descriptive grammar in the text—in translation. Influences on Persian, both in terms of historical precedence (Arabic, etc.) and in terms of subsequent linguistic and poetical influences on other literatures in Iran, such as Kurdish, Lori, and Gilaki, will be surveyed and analyzed.


Ghazal: A Survey of Love and Devotion in Persian Literature

This course studies the contextual, thematic, and figurative development of rhetoric in the Persian Ghazal.