Iran Handbook


When we search for the roots of our common heritage, we invariably come across certain peoples whose traditions, customs, religions and cultural achievements we recognize as the foundation on which we stand today as civilized human beings. Egypt, China, India, Babylon, Chaldea, Judea, Ethiopia, Greece, Persia, Rome and many others belong to this order. Some of these civilizations exist today and in them we detect a continuity that joins our present values and beliefs to our intellectual past. Others, now extinct, are known to us through the symbols and signs of the culture and civilization they had once built. Because they interacted on many levels, these ancient peoples developed in ways that were not all too different. That is why the basic ideas and ideals we have inherited from them, ideas we wish to emulate, have so much in common.

Not unlike men and women who live long during turbulent periods, countries with long histories also experience many successes and failures. In the West, we are naturally more familiar with some of these fluctuations and not enough with others, because of our own historical continuities. The rise and fall of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, for example, are better known to us, because for centuries poets, essayists, novelists, artists and historians have emphasized the images and concepts that bind us to these civilizations. The Judeo-Christian tradition stands out as the source and system of values that bestow meaning on life and death for a majority among us. Often, however, the stronger lines that extend across history connecting us to our specific pasts obscure the cultural interactions that have nourished the values that stand out so prominently in our consciousness. Consider, for example, how deeply Judeo-Christian thought has been affected by Zoroastrian ideas of paradise and of good and evil. Or, conversely, how much of early Christianity penetrated Parthian and Sasanian Iran and affected Zoroastrian practice. And how obvious are the intellectual liaisons between Islam and Judaism, or between ancient Iranian traditions and Hindu and Buddhist lore.

By presenting Iran--A Precollegiate Handbook, the Foundation for Iranian Studies hopes to bring an example of some of these similarities--the shared components of the common human heritage--to young men and women in the United States. We believe that the wealth and diversity of traditions that are reflected in the student body of typical American high schools can potentially turn any student meeting into an important medium for intercultural dialogue. Thus, the handbook is not only intended as a source of information on Iran, but also as a means of intercultural discourse. We hope that similar handbooks on other societies and cultures will be introduced to make the program more representative.

As an idea, Iran--A Precollegiate Handbook has a long history at the Foundation and in many other learning institutions. As a project, it took definite shape during a meeting of the representatives of the Outreach Councils of Columbia University, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, University of Washington and the Foundation for Iranian Studies at the MESA conference in Toronto, Canada, in November, l988. Each of the participants had previously worked on the preparation of teaching material on Iran for use in secondary schools and was aware of the lack of pedagogical tools available to secondary school teachers. They concluded that there was a need for a comprehensive packet of basic information and guidelines and agreed to act as a coordinating committee to help launch the project. The Foundation for Iranian Studies was designated as the organization responsible for the production and distribution of the handbook. A list of collaborators for various sections was drawn and Charlotte Albright accepted to edit the entire packet.

I asked Ms. Nazi Heyat to accept the task of raising funds from the Iranian community in Washington, D.C. to support the preparation of the handbook--a mission she took on with grace and performed with alacrity and success. Ms. Heyat also contacted a friend in Iran who provided us with copies of a current map which she purchased and donated to the project.

Mr. James A. Blair of the National Geographic kindly agreed to show hundreds of the slides he had taken in Iran in the 1970s and helped me select the twenty images that represent the various aspects of the country and its people. He then followed through with the National Geographic and helped us obtain permission to use copies of the slides for inclusion in the handbook.

Mr. Iraj Gorgin produced the audio-tape with samples of Persian classical, folk and popular music and readings in Persian and English of samples of poetry.

Mr. Hossein Tabnak, a foremost Iranian calligrapher, presented the project with samples of his work, representing the alphabet, popular American names, and appropriate greetings and salutations, to be used or copied by students in classrooms. Mr. Fred Assa drew the emblem and pictures in the Noruz section.

Copies of Ms. Badri Borghei's painting of the haft-seen (a collection of seven items starting with the letter s, constituting an important component of the Iranian new year ceremony) were purchased by the Foundation for Iranian Studies for inclusion in the Noruz segment.

I wish to thank coordinating committee members Sandra Batmanghlitch, Mary Martin and Latifeh Yarshater, whose principled and diligent cooperation made this work possible. On their behalf, I would like to thank all the artists, writers and scholars who contributed to the preparation of this handbook and the supporters of the project, without whose intellectual and financial contributions we would not have been able to accomplish this task.

Our special thanks to Professor Ehsan Yarshater who read the history section and to Professors Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Brian Spooner who read the entire work and offered a number of useful suggestions.

My deepest personal thanks to Charlotte Albright for her patience, hard work and understanding. It has been a pleasure working with her and I hope our cooperation will continue in the future on similar projects of mutual interest.

The present packet is part of an ongoing project. We are aware that there may be shortcomings in the presentation or the selection of topics or other aspects of the work at hand. We welcome suggestions from teachers, users, students and other interested persons and hope to improve the packet with time and with the feedback we will receive from the actual classroom use of the material.

Mahnaz Afkhami

Project Director

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