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Literature and Politics in the Persian-speaking World


Please note: The course information for next academic year has not yet been updated. Below you will find the course information from last academic year. As soon as we have an update we will immediately change this information.

Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Middle Eastern Studies, MA Middle Eastern Studies (research), or MA International Relations.

The number of places available in this course are limited. Therefore, read the information below under registration carefully.

Students who are not admitted to one of the abovementioned programmes can only be admitted to the course, if there are places left. Interested students may mail the Student advisor mentioning the course title, their name and their student ID number in the subject line. If they are admitted, they will be enrolled for the course by September 6 at the latest.


In this weekly seminar we look at the impact of major political events on Persian literature in Iran from the nineteenth century till present. The past hundred years in Iran are marked by a number of pivotal events, beginning with the Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911) which aimed to introduce a new political system based on parliamentary democracy. This was followed by the introduction of a secular and central state by Reza Shah in the 1920s, the CIA-lead coup in 1953, the ‘White Revolution’ in 1960s, the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), the Green Movement or the Twitter Revolution in 2009, and currently the sanctions and nuclear deal of 2015. In Iran, literature is a central medium in all domains of life, especially in politics and religion. Writers, including journalists and politicians, explore the extremely rich literary tradition for the expression of their views and analyses. Persian literature played a central role in communicating modern western political philosophy to ordinary Iranians from the nineteenth century to present. Poetry is used to justify violence and to give meaning to life and death, to express very personal thoughts and to mobilize people to achieve a goal. In this course we examine a wide array of examples, such as the Western racial theory referred to as Aryanism, political Islam, and the complicated relationship between Iran and the west. But we also look at the changing role of women in society, gender and sexuality, the role of Sufism in the Islamic Revolution, the poetry of Ayatollah Khomeini, and how poetry was used in the cult of martyrdom to mobilize young Iranians to sign up for the war. Whereas in the early twentieth century, newspapers were an important medium, today Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. play a major role. We will study the role of poetry in Social Media channels by politicians such as foreign minister Javad Zarif or president Hasan Rouhani.

Course objectives

One of the chief objectives of this course is to acquire insight into the way literature is used as a means to communicate various political views to a broad public in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Indo-Pakistani sub-continent. The students acquire knowledge on the interaction between politics and literature in the Persian-speaking world. In addition, the students learn how to contextualize literary, philosophical, and religious works in a wide range of modern political domains. They also learn how to present orally and in writing their findings to a specialist and broader audience.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Students are required to attend all lectures, participate actively in class discussion and prepare the assigned reading for all sessions. If you cannot attend a class for a good reason (i.e. unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.), you are expected to inform the convener beforehand. It is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. The maximum of such absences during a semester is two. Being absent without notification and/or more than two times can result in exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

The course consists of twelve seminars. For each seminar, students are required to read in advance selections from secondary literature and to analyze a limited number of passages from the primary sources (student with no knowledge of Persian will read sources in translation). Each session consists of two hours with one short break. The first hour is a general lecture while during the remaining hour, the students discuss their translations and analyses of a text. Each student is expected to give one presentation on a specific topic. The final assignment for this course is an essay of 3,000 words, exclusive bibliography. All reading materials are available from the lecturer. Students are responsible for their own photocopies of the texts.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours 280 hours
attending the class (2 hrs x 13 weeks) 26 hours
homework, i.e. reading the literature and studying the passages from the manuscript 52 hours
2 presentations (prep. & 15 min. talk) 30 hours
final paper 172 hours

Assessment method

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations). It is also unacceptable for students to reuse portions of texts they had previously authored and have already received academic credit for on this or other courses. In such cases, students are welcome to self-cite so as to minimise overlap between prior and new work.

Students must submit their assignment(s) to the blackboard through turnitin, so they can be checked for plagiarism. Submission via email is not accepted.

Assessment and weighing

Partial Assessment Weighing
Presentations 40%
Paper of 3,000 words 60%

The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented upon and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. (The actual deadlines for submission of the first and final versions of the paper will be communicated by the convener of the course through Blackboard. The deadline(s) mentioned in uSis is/are a fictional date for administration purposes only.)

The final mark for this course is formed by the weighted average.

In order to pass the course, students must obtain an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. All assessment parts must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.


Only if the total weighted average is insufficient (5.49 or lower), the insufficient grade is the result of an insufficient paper and the final version of the paper was submitted on time, a re-sit of the paper is possible. The deadline for this version will be determined in consultation.

A resit of the presentation is not possible

Exam review

If a student requests in writing a review of his/her paper within 30 days after publication of the exam results, a review will be organized.



See also Website Persian Studies

Reading list

Bleiker, R., Aesthetics and World Politics, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Karimi-Hakkak, A., A Fire of Lilies: Perspectives on Literature and Politics in Modern Iran, Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2019.

Seyed-Gohrab, A.A. (ed.) Literature of the Early Twentieth Century: From the Constitutional Period to Reza Shah, London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2015.

Seyed-Gohrab, A.A., Mirror of Dew: The Poetry of Ālam-Tāj Zhāle Qā'em-Maqāmi, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ILEX Foundation Series, 2014.

A detailed reading list for each week will be provided at the start of the course.


Students MA Middle Eastern Studies

  • Students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies who have been enrolled in the MA programme in the academic year 2018-2019 can register through uSis starting from 1 July. The number of places is limited and the principle is first come, first served.

  • A number of places has been reserved for students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies who will start in September 2019, including those coming from a Leiden BA programme. They are kindly requested to fill out the form on the right side of the MA MES page and send it in as soon as possible and Friday, August 30 at the latest to the study coordinator. Make sure you mention in the subject line “MA MES, [your name, student ID number]”.

Students MA Middle Eastern Studies (research)

  • Students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies (research) are strongly advised to opt for the Research MA version of the course. For those opting for the regular MA version the principles mentioned above for students of the MA Middle Eastern Studies apply.

Students MA International Relations

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the webpage on course and exam enrolment for registration deadlines and more information on uSis in Dutch and English.

To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “USIS-Actnbr.”. You can also have a look at the FAQ. (Tip: use the search term “uSis”.)

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. A.A. Seyed-Gohrab


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.