SPRING 2015 SEMINARS - February 11

Seminar on Iranian Studies

Dear Iranian Studies Seminar Members and Guests,
The sixth meeting of the 27th consecutive year of Columbia University Seminar on
Iranian Studies for the academic year 2014-2015 will take place on:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015
at 5:30 pm in the
Faculty House of Columbia University

Our speaker will be
Dr. Andrew D. Magnusson
California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo
who will lead the discussion on the topic of:
Triumphal and Lachrymose Narratives of
Fire Temple Desecration in Early Islamic Iran

We will gather in the lounge of Faculty House from 5:00-5:30.
Seminar will start at 5:30.
Please notify our rapporteur, Suzanne A. Toma at: <sat2005@columbia.edu> if you will attend the lecture. (Please also specify if you will stay for dinner, $25.00 payable by check.)

We are looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you at the seminar.
Co-Chairs: Vahid Nowshirvani and Ahmad Ashraf

To reach the Faculty House:
Enter the Wien Hall Gate on 116th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Walk past Wien Hall, then turn right to the Faculty House.


The historiography of Muslim-Zoroastrian relations tends to exaggerate the scale and religious significance of fire temple desecration in early Islamic Iran, 600-1100 C.E. As a result, the notion that Muslims routinely destroyed Zoroastrian fire temples is a pillar of what I call the “lachrymose” narrative of Zoroastrian history. Too often modern scholars uncritically accept violent claims made by medieval Muslims, even though such claims can be highly rhetorical. Scholars of Islam in the South Asian context argue that Indian Muslims often invented tales of Hindu temple desecration as part of a triumphal narrative of religious supersession. The same violent discourse appears to have been at work in Iran. Although Muslims did desecrate a few Zoroastrian temples between the seventh and eleventh centuries, mostly in the course of conquest, these incidents are often so poorly contextualized in the secondary literature that they would seem to have been motivated solely by religious animus. Proper contextualization favors more nuanced—and less sectarian—interpretations of events. My presentation will introduce the lachrymose narrative of Zoroastrian history and the place of fire temple desecration within it in order to challenge the overly dismal picture of Muslim‐Zoroastrian relations in early Islamic Iran.


Dr. Andrew Magnusson is a Lecturer in the Department of History at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo. He earned a Ph.D. in Islamic History at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014. His dissertation, “Muslim-Zoroastrian Relations and Religious Violence in Early Islamic Discourse, 600-1100 C.E.,” critically examines the harsh and accommodating attitudes toward Zoroastrians that appear in Arabic and New Persian sources. These competing discourses reveal the contested, contingent, contextual nature of intercommunal relations after the Islamic conquest of Iran. Andrew has a forthcoming article, “On the Origins of the Prophet Muhammad’s Charter (ʿahd-ˇnāma) to the Family of Salmān al-Fārisi,” in the ARAM Periodical, a publication of the Oriental Institute at Oxford University. He also has a chapter on ethnic and religious minorities in the Cambridge Companion to Modern Arab Culture (in press). He received a B.A. in History from Brigham Young University.