A Survey of Contemporary Persian Encyclopedias

In this, the third installment of his articles about contemporary Persian encyclopedias, the author reviews Da'erat al-Ma'aref Bozorg-e Eslami [the Great Encyclopedia of Islam] The author begins by pointing to the fact that, unlike many other works of this kind, most of the original research for the articles published in this unique encyclopedia is based on extensive sources and documents available to their writers within the Center of Da'erat al- Ma'aref Bozorg-e Eslami itself. While referring to the extensive academic, technical and administrative facilities at the disposal of the Center, the author describes, in some detail the various departments of the center and their respective research directors.

The establishment of the Center and publication of the first six volumes of its encyclopedia, the author believes, must be considered one of the most significant cultural events not only in Iran but in the Islamic world. The originality of the underlying research and the comprehensiveness of its articles clearly stand out. Furthermore, in its meticulous attention to systematic documentation and to appropriate and ample bibliographical references, this encyclopedia seems clearly influenced by the academic and methodological models used in the writing of western encyclopedias. In an extensive passage about the undeniable relevance of western scholarly research and writing to the survival and growth of an authentic system of scholarship in Iran, the author warns of the pitfalls of either emotional and irrational denigration of western scholarship or undue deference to its scholars.

The main shortcomings of the published volumes are also highlighted in the article. Specifically, the author refers, among other things, to an apparent reluctance to cite western references, the undue concentration on the Arab regions of the Islamic world, and the omission of certain important entries; an omission which may perhaps be attributed to the prevailing cultural and political prejudices.

Ehsan Yarshater
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