Prof. Almut Hintze of SOAS awarded European Research Council grant of €2.5 million to study core ritual of Zoroastrianism

Professor Almut Hintze FBA, Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS University of London, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Investigator Grant of just under €2.5 million (ca. £2 million) for a project on the Yasna, the core ritual of one of the most ancient and influential living religions, Zoroastrianism.

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The project ‘The Multimedia Yasna’ (MUYA) will film a performance of the Yasna ritual, transcribe the words which the priests recite, and examine their meaning and how they relate to the ritual actions and to the tradition of the manuscripts.

Professor Hintze said: “I’m delighted to have been awarded this grant and to be able to advance understanding of the Yasna, which has been hampered by the presence of out-dated editions and translations or by their absence altogether.

Our project proposes to fill these gaps and create a film and a critical edition of the recitation text. We will examine the Yasna both as a performance and as a text attested in manuscripts. The two approaches will be integrated to answer questions about the meaning and function of the Yasna in a historical perspective.”

The research methods for achieving MUYA’s objectives unite cutting-edge approaches from digital humanities, philology and linguistics. These complementary datasets and methods will be used to produce a subtitled, interactive film of the Yasna ritual, and an online platform of transcribed manuscripts and editorial tools together with print editions, translations and commentaries of the Avestan Yasna.

The project was commended for opening Iranian philology to digital humanities and producing unprecedented visual documentation of current ritual practices. These were deemed to be critically important objectives with potential for great impact. The project was also commended for extending far beyond its primary objective of creating a multimedia package for the Yasna ritual, through the integration of the textual and the visual, while at the same time being devoid of any spectacularisation.

MUYA provides positions for three full-time and one part-time postdoctoral researchers, three fully funded PhD scholarships, and involves an international team of researchers in the UK, Germany, India and Iran. The project will run from October 2016 to September 2021.