Earthly or Ethereal? The Beloved in Classical Persian Poetry

Saturday May 29, 2021
11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Poster design: Razman Goudarzi (UBC student; Current UBCPC President)

Please note that the event time has changed from 4pm to 11am on the same day. Presented in English with subtitles. Registration is essential here.

It seems that the controversies over the nature of the beloved in classical Persian poetry as an earthly or ethereal phenomenon would never end. Those in favor of the celestial reading of it (who particularly enjoyed more fortune after the 1979 Islamic revolution) consider their counterparts with close affinities for an earthly beloved to be narrow-minded. The adherents of terrestrial love (who have not favored many academic voices, inside Iran due to the hegemony of the Islamicists, and in diaspora, because of the dominance of Islamic Studies in Religious Departments), though, see mystical readings dogmatic and outdated, prevailed by traditionalists. The topic gets even more complicated when one takes into account the attitudes in the medieval Muslim world toward homosexual acts and homosexual orientation, shāhid-bāzī, and thus, the gender of this beloved. The present article explores and analyzes the nature of the beloved in Persian classical poetry (with a focus on theʿirāqī style) via five different but related approaches: philosophical, translational and comparative literature, linguistic, poetic, and ultimately, historical/developmental. The study concludes that a structural and essentialist reading of the beloved in Persian classical poetry as either earthly or ethereal would create numerous problems at multiple levels, and that that the spirit of Persian classical poetry in this regard is the spirit of uncertainty, due to various reasons. The present research hopes to offer an expanded meaning of mystical love to read and interpret Persian mystical/lyrical ʿirāqī-style poetry.

Mahdieh Vali-Zadeh is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Comparative Literature of University of Toronto and a graduate of Harvard World Literature program. Mahdieh is now focused on writing her comparative dissertation, which concerns the reception of British Orientalist scholarship of Persian mysticism on the matter of the ‘self’, both individual and national, in two different but related frameworks: among the British Romantic poets of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, and the Iranian intellectuals of the early to mid-twentieth century. Her comparative Masters’ thesis on the matter of the sublime in Rumi and Wordsworth’s poetry was nominated for Best American Comparative Literature Association Master Thesis Award from York University.

About the Alireza Ahmadian Lectures in Iranian and Persianate Studies: Alireza Ahmadian (1981 – 2019) was an enthusiastic researcher, a consummate socio-political analyst, and an opinion leader on foreign policy who nurtured the virtues of diplomatic dialogue and liberal democracy. Alireza was a proud and devoted UBC alumnus, supporter of UBC’s Asian Studies department, and beloved member of Canadian-Iranian Community. UBC’s Asian Studies department renamed this lecture series in his honour in 2019. The Ahmadian family and friends have provided funding to support this series, and this generous gift will see these important academic and community engagement events supported through to the end of the 2025/2026 academic year. To access the full list of events, click here.