New class at Stanford explores Zoroastrianism

New class explores ancient religion Popular faiths rooted in Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism, the world’s oldest revealed religion, is the focus of an introductory course this quarter taught by Visiting Prof. Jennifer Rose from the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. “Introduction to the Zoroastrian Religion,” organized by the Center for South Asia and a committee of Zoroastrian community members, will explore in detail the origins of the religion, its role in the Iranian empires and its relation to Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeism and Islam.

Zoroastrianism is a significant but little-known religious and cultural tradition that originated in Iran and became an important influence in modern India. The course will highlight how common religious concepts such as universal judgment and renewal, a savior figure and paradise all seem to have been influenced by Zoroastrian teachings.

Yesterday’s first class featured a small gathering of students, allowing for an intimate atmosphere and close interaction with Rose. Many students in attendance expressed personal interest in the subject.

Magali Ferare ‘10, a Comparative Studies major, explained her motive for enrolling in the course.

“I am excited to understand how Zoroastrianism evolved with the people and largely influenced other religions,” she said. “This course provides a historical approach to studying the religion which has complemented my understanding of other religions.”

In the course, students will delve into Zoroastrianism’s later forms and functions in Iran and India and its diaspora, working closely with Rose, who received her Master’s degree in Iranian Studies from Columbia University and has written widely on the subject of Zoroastrianism. Students will also study the impact of the religion on European literati such as Voltaire, Mozart, Nietzsche and the romantic poets.

Neekaan Oshidary ‘10 revealed a personal tie to the subject of the class.

“Both my parents are Zoroastrian so it’s great to have a course at Stanford dedicated to the religion,” he said. “Professor Rose is very passionate about the subject and so I recommend anyone with an interest in religion to definitely shop this class.”

Riah Forbes ‘10, one of the few Zoroastrians on campus, is impressed by the program although she was unable to fit it into her schedule this quarter.

“It’s great to see that the University has taken initiative to develop a course about a religion that has such importance in the world today,” she said. “Hopefully, this course will be well accepted by the Stanford community and all the efforts to put it together will pay off.”

The three-unit course, which fulfills the Humanities GER, will be held on Tuesdays from 1:15 p.m. through 4:05 p.m. in Building 20-21G. The quarter will conclude with the opportunity to experience Zoroastrianism as a lived reality, to hear both lay and priestly speakers from the local Zoroastrian community and to observe a Zoroastrian ritual.