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The Epistemological Frontiers of Persian Learning

April 8, 2016 @ 10:15 am - April 9, 2016 @ 12:40 pm

core15 image—organized by Nile Green, University of California, Los Angeles

co-sponsored by the UCLA Program on Central Asia & the Irving & Jean Stone Chair in Social Sciences

As a lingua franca promoted by multi-ethnic and multi-religious states and expanded further by education and commerce, Persian had reached the zenith of its geographical and social reach by the eighteenth century. In the course of the nineteenth century, it was rapidly undermined by the rise of new imperial and vernacular languages. By 1900 a language that had connected much of Eurasia had shrunk to a core ‘homeland.’ This conference series aims to understand the reasons behind both the rapid expansion and contraction of Persian by identifying what functions the language was both able and unable to serve in an age of transformative Eurasian interactions. By identifying the geographical, social, and epistemological ‘frontiers’ of Persian, these Core conferences explore the limits of exchange, understanding, and affection between the diverse communities brought into contact by Persian. Through a critical rather than celebratory approach drawn from the intersection of historical, sociolinguistic, and literary analyses, the program aims to test the limits of Persian by identifying its geographical, social, and epistemological fault lines.

While Persian has been rightly admired as a language of humanism, philosophy, and science, there is little sense of its epistemological limitations. Yet the early modern period saw a rapid acceleration of intellectual and scientific exchange, in the case of Persian involving translations from both European and Asian languages. In this age of new ideas, the third conference asks whether there were certain concepts or debates that Persian was unable to capture or communicate? Were these constraints due to external, socio-political factors, or did Persian’s linguistic profile and literary conventions impose on its users internal constraints? How constraining a factor was Persian’s reliance on manuscript transmission prior to the mid-nineteenth century (and, conversely, what was the impact on Persian of printed texts in European or vernacular languages)? What role was played by demands of creating a vocabulary for scientific discoveries and political innovations made in other cultural and linguistic contexts? In these ways, the conference charts the epistemological barriers of Persian as it responded to new political and intellectual demands.

Muzaffar Alam, University of Chicago
Ali Anooshahr, University of California, Davis
Subah Dayal, University of California, Los Angeles
Rebecca Gould, University of Bristol
Rajeev Kinra, Northwestern University
Hajnalka Kovacs, Duke University
Paul Losensky, Indiana University
John R. Perry, University of Chicago
Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles
Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, University of Toronto
Marc Toutant, Ahmanson-Getty Fellow

For details and bookings please visit our website.


April 8, 2016 @ 10:15 am
April 9, 2016 @ 12:40 pm


UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies