Persian Language and Literature

The University of Chicago has been teaching ancient Iran and Iranian languages since the archaeological expeditions of the Oriental Institute in the 1920s, and in 1966 we began regularly teaching Persian literature of the 10th through the 20th century, among the first universities in North America to do so.  Many of the professors of Persian literature and Iranian studies currently teaching at institutions in this country and abroad were trained in NELC at the University of Chicago.  The University is home to Regenstein Library, which holds one of the major library collections of Persian materials, a major journal (Journal of Near Eastern Studies), a weekly Persian Circle (anjoman-e soxan), and maintains active collaboration with the American Institute of Iranian Studies and, through the Oriental Institute, with the National Museum of Afghanistan Cultural Heritage project and the Persepolis Fortification Archive project.  Though housed in NELC, the courses and programming for Persian language and literature draw on resources, faculty and students from across the university, including South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC), the Divinity School (DIV), and other units at the university.

General Program Overview.  Students entering NELC with a primary focus in Persian Language and Literature must meet the general requirements for the Ph.D. degree in NELC as listed below (and for further details see the NELC rules and Rules & Requirements, and the Timeline).  Student progress toward these requirements is periodically reviewed, especially at the end of year one and again at the end of year two before approval is given for continuation in the Ph.D.:

1)  Successful completion of at least 27 courses, which will normally amount to 3 years of coursework under our quarter system (Rules & Requirements §§ 2 and 6 through 12);

2)   Grade of high-pass in two modern research language reading examinations (e.g., French and German), one by the end of the first year, and the other by the end of the second year of coursework (Rules & Requirements §§ 14 and 15); 

3)  Completion of an acceptable M.A. thesis paper (Rules & Requirements §§ 16-20) in Spring of the second year.  Students who successfully complete the second-year review will receive an MA degree and be continued forward to the Ph.D. degree.

4)  Completion of 5 units of teaching in the university, as language assistant, course assistant and/or lecturer, from year three through year five (normally one unit in year three, and 2 units in each of years 4 and 5);

5)  Successful completion of comprehensive exams before the end of year 4 (Rules & Requirements §§ 24-34);

6)  Successful hearing for a dissertation proposal before the end of year 5 (Rules & Requirements §§ 35-39), which means the student enters into candidacy (ABD status) for the Ph.D. degree. N.B.: Students are strongly encouraged to schedule the dissertation proposal before the end of year 4, because per the Humanities Division policy, “students who have reached candidacy by the end of the spring quarter of their fourth year in the program are eligible for a summer stipend in summer before the fifth year.  Furthermore, students who are in candidacy by the end of the fifth year in the program are eligible for health insurance coverage in the sixth and if necessary the seventh year of the program.”

The Normative Time-to-Candidacy policy conforms to other divisional and university requirements. In particular note:, per the rules of the Division of Humanities about Candidacy and Defense.

7)  Successful defense of the dissertation within seven years of the successful dissertation proposal (Rules & Requirements §§ 40-48). University policy limits the number of years in which a doctoral student can be enrolled full-time to 12 years. 

Language Requirements.  Students in all of the Islamic and Modern Middle Eastern fields, including Persian language and literature, must achieve competence in at least two Near Eastern Languages.   Students in the Persian Language and Literature program will naturally have Persian as their primary language, and will also declare a secondary Near Eastern language, in consultation with their advisor.   Normally, the secondary Near Eastern language will be Arabic or Turkish, though depending on the student’s research focus and courses available at the university, this may also be Aramaic, Armenian, Hebrew, Kazakh, Middle Persian, Old Persian, Ottoman, or Uzbek.  In cases where the student’s academic interests warrant a language taught outside of NELC, he or she may, with the approval of the advisor and the Graduate Counselor for the Islamic/Modern fields, petition the Student Affairs Committee to substitute a related language taught in another department, such as Avestan, Bangla, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Mongolian or Urdu, for her or his secondary Near Eastern Language.  

Before taking comprehensive examinations, students in the Persian L&L program must reach advanced level competency in Persian, and intermediate level competency (or better) in their secondary Near Eastern language.   Advanced level competency in Persian is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of three years of coursework (nine quarters) in courses using Persian texts, beyond the usual intermediate-level (second-year) language course.  Intermediate level competency is defined as satisfactory completion (with grades of B or better) of the intermediate-level (second-year) language course.

Coursework.  Students in the Persian Language and Literature program of NELC are expected to take 27 courses, as follows, in consultation with their adviser.  In cases where there is a compelling reason for substitutions, this may be approved with the adviser and by petition to the Student Affairs Committee:

Coursework.  Students in the Persian Language and Literature program of NELC are expected to take 27 courses, as follows, in consultation with their adviser.  In cases where there is a compelling reason for substitutions, this may be approved with the adviser and by petition to the Student Affairs Committee:

1)       Typically one course per quarter (for a total of 9 courses) in modern or pre-modern Persian literature, philology or linguistics. These may include, with the advisor’s permission, other courses that involve substantial use of Persian-language sources (medieval or modern history of the Islamicate world; Islamic philosophy or political thought, Islamic theology or Sufism, etc.).

2)      The year-long sequence (3 courses) in Islamic Thought and Literature, or in Islamic History and Society.

3)      At least 4 NELC courses in comparative literature; medieval or modern history of the Islamicate world; Islamic law, Islamic philosophy or political thought, Islamic theology, Sufism, Zoroastrian or Baha’i Studies, etc.

4)      At least 6 courses in the secondary Near Eastern language to establish, beyond the basic language requirements, a degree of proficiency in using primary and secondary sources in that language.

5)      5 additional elective courses may be chosen, with the consent of the adviser, for a total of 27.  

Comprehensive Examinations.  The comprehensive examinations in Persian Language and Literature consist of the four following subjects:

1) Methodology:  a written exam of eight hours assessing the student's ability to work with primary materials in Persian and the secondary Near Eastern Language (usually a text or texts of a kind familiar to the student) and to utilize those materials in the production of scholarship --e.g., by being asked to prepare a translation or summary of the text, a commentary on it, and/or to write an essay on an assigned topic or topics using the text as part of the evidence, to read manuscripts, etc. The student may consult dictionaries (and other materials that may be deemed necessary by the examiner/advisor).

2) Islamic History and Civilization (Oral exam; 2 hours maximum)

3) Major Field:  a written exam of four hours in Persian Literature (either Modern or Pre-Modern);

4) Minor Field:  a written exam of four hours in a subject chosen from the list below; typically this will be Arabic Literature, Turkish Literature, Persian Literature (Modern or Pre-Modern Persian Literature, whichever was not selected for the Major Field), Persian Philology; Middle Periods Islamic History, Sufism; etc. examinations are intended to test the student's comprehensive knowledge of the given fields. Students should select fields for their examinations in consultation with their advisor.

·         Islamic Art

·         Islamic Archaeology

·         Early Islamic History (ca. 500-1200 C.E.)

·         Middle Periods Islamic History (ca. 1000-1700 C.E.)

·         Modern Middle Eastern History (ca. 1500-Present)

·         Pre-Modern Arabic Literature

·         Modern Arabic Literature

·         Pre-Modern Persian Literature

·         Modern Persian Literature

·         Pre-Modern Turkish Literature

·         Modern Turkish Literature

·         Pre-Modern Hebrew Literature

·         Modern Hebrew Literature

·         Philology (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or Hebrew)

·         Linguistics (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hebrew, or Comparative Semitics)

·         Islamic Philosophy

·         Islamic Theology

·         Islamic Law

·         Qur'anic Studies

·         Hadith

·         Islamic Political Thought

·         Sufism

With the approval of his/her advisor and the Graduate Counselor, a student may choose a minor exam field in the Ancient section of NELC, or outside the Department, if relevant to his or her research interests; for example, Art History; Byzantine History; Comparative Literature; Coptic Literature; History or Sociology of Religions; Linguistics; Slavic Languages and Literatures; South Asian Language and Literature; Zoroastrianism; or other Humanities or Social Sciences fields deemed relevant by the advisor.

Dissertation Proposal.  After passing the Comprehensive Examinations, the student will select a dissertation advisor from the NELC faculty, and will in consultation with the advisor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and/or the Chairman of the Department, set up a faculty committee of at least three and not more than five members to supervise the dissertation. The advisor, who is the chairman of this committee, must be a faculty member of NELC. The proposal must be submitted within one year after completing the Comprehensive Examination and presented before the dissertation committee in a public proposal hearing. Once the proposal has been approved by the Department's faculty, the student shall be formally admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree (see the Department's Rules adnd Requirements, § 33).

The Dissertation and Final Oral Examination.  After approval of the dissertation proposal, the student will conduct dissertation research, keeping in close touch with his or her advisor and the members of his or her dissertation committee, giving monthly progress reports.  The finished dissertation must meet all University and Departmental requirements (see Rules and Requirements §§ 39-41) and should ideally be submitted by the end of the eighth year, and in any case no more than twelve years after admission to NELC.