Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Reclaiming the Faravahar: Zoroastrian Survival in Contemporary Tehran

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Reclaiming the Faravahar: Zoroastrian Survival in Contemporary Tehran

Article excerpt

Reclaiming the Faravahar: Zoroastrian Survival in Contemporary Tehran, by Navid Fozi. Leiden, The Netherlands: Leiden University Press, 2015. 259 pages. $59.50.

Zoroastrianism is one of the most influential traditions in the history of religions, having provided many of the basic concepts now found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even Buddhism, but it is very little known today outside specialist circles. It was the state religion of the Sasanian Empire in Iran prior to the Arab conquests in the mid-seventh century, and has been in decline ever since. Today there are fewer than 60,000 practitioners in India (descendants of migrants who fled Iran more than 1,000 years ago) and perhaps 15,000-20,000 in its original homeland of Iran; diaspora communities exist in the United States (14,000), Canada (7,000), the United Kingdom (5,000), and elsewhere throughout the world. Iranian nationalists began to reclaim Zoroastrianism - along with its principal symbol, a human figure within a winged disk known as the faravahar - during the early 20th century. Today many Iranians claim to have "reverted" to their "original national religion," but such conversions are not recognized in Iran and are controversial elsewhere since traditional Zoroastrian communities do not accept converts.

Iran's ever diminishing Zoroastrian community has been the subject of several ethnographic studies, notably Michael Fischer's "Zoroastrian Iran: Between Myth and Practice," (PhD dissertation, University of Chicago, 1973); Mary Boyce, A Persian Stronghold of Zoroastrianism (Clarendon Press, 1977); and Janet Kestenberg Amighi, Zoroastrians of Iran: Conversion, Assimilation, or Persistence (AMS Press, 1990). To these may now be added Navid Fozi's work on the Zoroastrians of Tehran.

Fozi, who completed the work under review as part of a PhD in anthropology, seems to have stumbled upon his subject almost by accident after having been thwarted in his initial aim to conduct research on a rural Sufi sect and settling on the Ahl-e Haqq of Kermanshah Province. (He does not seem to have realized that the Ahl-e Haqq are not Muslims and therefore not a Sufi sect.) His knowledge of Zoroastrianism is somewhat hastily acquired, and appears to be based largely on personal communication with one scholar who is himself Zoroastrian, but not Iranian (Jamsheed Choksy) supplemented by an uncritical use of secondary sources a number of which are by nonspecialists (Kathryn Babayan) or amateurs (Shahin Bekhradnia). …

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