ME/SA Celebrates Iranian Women Writers

By Tory Brykalski - On January 26, 2016, the Middle East/South Asia Studies program (ME/SA) hosted a lecture by Dr. Nasrin Rahimieh of UC Irvine. Held in honor of the new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature, the lecture was entitled “Modern Iranian Women Writers Shaping the Cultural Imaginary.” The event also honored Bita Daryabari’s transformational contribution to the UC Davis community by naming her a Chancellor’s Laureate.

Dr. Rahimieh highlighted the visionary role played for the last century by literary women in Iranian culture. Focusing on work by various authors—from Fatimih Bigum Baraghani to the more contemporary Zoya Pirzad—Dr. Rahimieh explained how attempts to “sideline” women in the political and cultural sphere have not succeeded in erasing “the history of women’s role in challenging and shaping Iranian cultural norms.”

RamihiehThough poetic or fictional in form, the critiques offered by these writers are far more thorough, Dr. Rahimieh (pictured, right) argued, than any political treatise. For them, life in Iran is not simply “political” or “religious.” They portray that life—political and otherwise—as more complex and nuanced than do most male authors. Together, they point to a “departure of the myth of a nation united.” For Dr. Rahimieh, this departure allows seemingly ordinary characters to shine a light on the neglected spaces of a mythical nation. It invites us to look deeper at the contradictions beneath that myth.

New opportunities

“You can’t really know the people without knowing the language,” Suad Joseph, distinguished professor of anthropology and ME/SA co-founder, explained in her introduction to Dr. Rahimieh’s talk. “You must know their language and you must know their religion if you want to know the culture of a people.”

Bita DaryabariWith the US just having lifted its sanctions on Iran, the inauguration of the Bita Daryabari Chair could not be more timely. Established through a $1.5 million donation from Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian Bita Daryabari (pictured, left), and co-housed by Social Sciences and Humanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies, the chair is the first of its kind. As Chancellor Linda Katehi remarked in her introduction to the event, it will offer UC Davis students “new opportunities to enrich their multicultural awareness.”

Starting in Fall 2016, students will be able to enroll in Persian I and II, and take classes with a new Iranian studies scholar by Fall 2017. Together, these classes will enable ME/SA to expand its Iranian and Persian program (currently a minor) by giving UC Davis students the chance to study Persian, and to look more deeply at Iran. A colloquium on Iranian culture is also planned.

ME/SA is currently home to a variety of cross-disciplinary faculty, dozens of graduate students, a major,  and a minor, as well as a number of events and a yearly research symposium at which undergraduate and graduate students present their work. For more information, visit the ME/SA website.

Nasrin Rahimieh is currently Howard Baskerville Professor of Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Irvine. Learn more at her faculty webpage.