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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Gholamreza Vatandoust
HIST 490
Seattle Campus

Topics in History

Examines special topics in history.

Class description


This course is an intensive study of the emergence of modern Iran as an independent Shi’i State in the Middle East following the rise of the Safavids in 1501 CE. The Safavids were the only state in the Islamic Middle East that managed to retain their independence from the Ottoman hegemonic rule and it did so both along religious and ethnic lines. While the course will cover the Safavid, Afshar and the Zand dynasties (1501-1779 CE) who ruled mostly along tribal lines, the bulk of the course will concentrate on the Qajars and the Pahlavis followed by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. To this day Iran remains one of the most enigmatic societies in the region. On the one hand it has a high rate of literacy with a dynamic, young and modern population, while on the other, it has its own share of fundamentalists who espouse a strict Shi’i state guided by a supreme faqih (religious leader) adorned with the mantle of the Prophet.

Student learning goals

To recognize the diversity of Persian history and culture within the context of the broader Middle East.

To study the underlying concepts of Shi'ism as it emerged as the official religion of Iran in the 16th century.

To dispense with the Orientalist myth of a dormant and static middle east vis-a-vis the dynamic west in western literature.

To determine the causes for the rise of fundamentalism today and to assess the part played by Iran, Islam and the Middle East in its development.

To investigate the crises of modernity and tradition that is so deeply imbedded in the Middle East

To speculate on the concept of democracy and civil society as it affects Iran, and for that matter, the rest of the Middle East in the modern world.

General method of instruction

Students can expect an in depth analysis of the dichotomies that have emerged throughout the centuries such as tribalism versus the monarchic rule, religious versus western democratic institutions, traditionalism versus modernism, and the Shi’i religious culture versus a secular culture.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

An attempt will be made to understand modern Iran through readings, film and extensive class discussions on specialized topics. Students are also expected to participate actively in class, do a research paper on a particular topic and take a written final exam.

Class leadership and participation (20%) Research presentations (30%) Research paper (30%) Final exam (20%)

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Gholamreza Vatandoust
Date: 04/04/2008