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Asghar Seyed Gohrab

Senior University Lecturer Persian Language and Literature

Prof.dr. A.A. Seyed Gohrab
+31 71 527 2287

Asghar Seyed Gohrab is a Senior University Lecturer at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies and Professor of Iranian and Persian Studies at Utrecht University.

More information about Asghar Seyed Gohrab

Current research

My recent research has examined how classical poetry and medieval mystic and philosophical concepts are applied in modern Iran, to effect and comment on political changes. I have concentrated on three central episodes in the 20th century. At the time of the Constitutional Revolution (1905-11), poetry became a vehicle for introducing ‘Western' social and political ideas. During the Islamic Revolution, Khomeini used poetry to express his mystical ideals; he also used mystical concepts as a buttress for his theory of Islamic government. During the Iran-Iraq war, poetry became part of the state propaganda, supporting the cult of combatant martyrdom, which in the crisis became an icon of national identity and a means of justifying violence. Poetry was also used in intensely personal processing of the horrors and quandaries of revolution and war. What the three episodes share is paradox: the struggle for political and economic independence from the same nations that inspired social and political reforms during the Constitutional Revolution; the mystic-poet Khomeini who would not hurt a fly but whose political ideology was ruthless; and mystical ideals that preach peacefulness and everlasting life, used to incite people to kill and give up their own lives. The hypothesis in my research is that all three paradoxes are resolved in poetry through the same themes, drawing on classical doctrines and forms, such as mystical love and personal spiritual growth, but making them new, to speak of pan-Islamism, anti-imperialism, social reform and democracy. This research was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). 

My on-going research looks broadly at the role of poetry as action, in the Persian-speaking world. As a student reading both English and Persian, I was struck by how strongly Persian poetry affects daily life in Iran, while in the Netherlands and in the English speaking world, poetry is highly appreciated, but allotted a separate domain. Poetry is so ubiquitous in Persian culture that it affects the way people reflect on love and faith, growing up, reaching adolescence and death. Classical poetry is everywhere, from the messages on answering machines to the backs of trucks. What has caused this, and what effects does it have? Why is poetry used in political speeches? In the gymnasium?

Other research interests

  • My fascination is with the role of Persian as a cosmopolitan language in an ethnically and religiously mixed milieu, with a multi-layered political structure, over a wide area and for diverse purposes. Persian was used beyond its ‘native’ area (much of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan) from an early period. Persian was introduced as a language of courtly life in India by the predominantly Turkish Ghaznavids. They established thriving cultural centres in cities such as Lahore, Multan and Delhi, and attracted scientists, historians, poets and artists through generous patronage. From the eleventh to the 19th century, literary production outside the ‘native’ Persian-speaking world was quite enormous, exceeding the literary production of Iran itself, as Annemarie Schimmel indicates. When the Safavids established their empire in Greater Iran in the 16th century, and Akbar the Great came to power in India, Persian became an essential aspect of life at the two courts, ruling empires extending from China to Central Asia to the borders of Anatolia. From the second half of the 11th century, the Saljuqs (Turkish-speaking, and originating in Central Asia), spread Islamic culture in a wide area of Anatolia and championed Persian as a literary language.
  • Cultural exchange between the Islamic world and Medieval Europe
  • Islamic mysticism and spirituality

Personal website



Een liefdesgedicht als propganda: Poëzie en politiek in Iran

Editor in chief of book series

I. Iranian Studies Series (Leiden University Press) 

II. Modern Persian Poetry
1)  Raana aan de vijver (A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
2) ‘ Een schipper van was, kleiner dan God’ (J.T.P. de Bruijn & A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
3)  Aïda in de spiegel en andere gedichten (A. Seyed-Gohrab & J.T.P. de Bruijn); 
4)  Een wit veulen (G. Van den Berg); 
5)  Ik voel deernis met de tuin (A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
6)  In de stilte van de Maan (K. Parsi); 
7)  De klank van de voetstappen van het water (A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
8)  Spiegel voor geluid (A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
9)  O God, heb je ooit gehuild (K. Parsi); 
10)  Zorgzaam als een nomade (J.T.P. de Bruijn); 
11)  Iemand die op niemand lijkt (A. Seyed-Gohrab); 
12)  Wees mooi: gedichten van Nasim Khâksâr (K. Parsi); 
13)  Mijn rijkdom van vis tot maan: gedichten van Abo 'l-qasem Lâhuti (M. Klein); 
14)  Heel de nacht tel ik de sterren, Aref-e Qazvini (A. Ghodratzadeh); 
15)  Schaduw: gedichten van Hushang Ebtehadj (J.T.P. de Bruijn & A. Seyed-Gohrab).


Curriculum Vitae

Grants and Awards: 

1997   NWO ‘oio’ PhD grant  
2002 NWO VENI grant (A History of Early Literary Riddles: the Emergence of Persian Riddle Poetry and its Impact on Poetic Diction)  
2009 NWO VIDI grant (Of Poetry and Politics: Classical Poetic Concepts in New Politics of Twentieth Century Iran)  
2007-2012 Fellow of the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW).  
2013-2014 Fellow at Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS)

Ph.D. in Persian Studies, Leiden University (2001) Supervisors Prof.Dr. J.T.P. de Bruijn / Prof.dr. J.G.J. ter Haar  
- MA in Persian Studies, emphasis on Islamic mysticism and Shiite philosophy Leiden University (1995) 
- MA in English Language and Literature, emphasis on Old and Middle English literature, Vrije Universiteit (1995) 

Teaching experience 
Courses taught in the BA, MA and Research MA include:  
•   Introduction to Area Studies  
•   Islamic Mysticism  
•   Literature and politics 
•   Classical Persian Poetry as a Living Tradition 
•   Modern Persian literature  
•   Persian Court poetry 
•   Contemporary Iranian history 
•   Iranian film an Persian visual culture 
•   Literary reception theory 
•   Persian manuscript tradition (text and transmission) 
•   Persian oral literature

Key publications (for a full list see published work)

  • (2014, forthcoming)  Mirror of Dew: The Poetry of Ālam-Tāj Zhāle Qā'em-Maqāmi, Cambridge: Harvard University Press (ILEX Series).
  • (2009)    Martelaren: van mystieke weg tot oorlogspad in the series Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Amsterdam: KNAW Press, 72, no.4.
  • (2008)  Courtly Riddles: Enigmatic Embellishments in Early Persian Poetry, Amsterdam, Rozenberg Publishers / West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University press. (republished in 2010 at Leiden University Press)
  • (2003)  Layli and Majn  ‎un: Love, Madness and Mystic Longing in Nezāmi’s Epic Romance, Leiden / Boston: E.J. Brill.

Selected edited volumes

  • (2013)  Conflict and Development in Iranian Film, ed. (together with Kamran Talattof), Leiden: Leiden University Press.
  • (2012)  The Great Umar Khayyam: A Global Reception of the Rubáiyat, Leiden: Leiden University Press.
  • (2012)  Metaphor and Imagery in Persian Poetry, Leiden/Boston: Brill.
  • (2007)  The Treasury of Tabriz: the Great Il-Khanid Compendium, Amsterdam, Rozenberg Publishers / West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue University press (together with S. McGlinn).

Selected articles in peer-reviewed journals and books

  • (2013) “The Rose and the Wine: Dispute as a Literary Device in Classical Persian Literature,” in  Iranian Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 69–85.
  • (2012) “No Reward – Martyrdom as Piety, Mysticism and National Icon in Iran,” in  Der Islam: Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kultur des islamischen Orients, issue 1-2, 87, pp. 248-73.
  • (2011) “Khomeini the Poet Mystic” in  Die Welt des Islams: International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam, 51, pp. 438-458.
  • (2011): “A Mystical Reading of Nezami’s use of nature in the Haft Peykar” in  A Key to the Treasures of Hakim: Artistic and Humanistic Aspects of Nizami Ganjavi’s Khamsa, eds. J.C. Bürgel & Ch. van Ruymbeke, Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2011, pp. 181-93.
  • (2010) “The Erotic Spirit: Love, Man and Satan in Hafez’s Poetry” in  Hafiz and The School of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, ed. L. Lewisohn, London: I.B. Tauris, pp. 107-21.
  • (2006) “Description (Wasf) and Ekphrasis in Anvari’s Poetry” in  Studies on the Poetry of Anvari, ed. Daniela Meneghini, Venice: Studi Eurasiatici, Ca’Foscari University, pp. 111-26.
  • (2005) “Life, Cult and Impact of Khāja `Abdollāh Ansāri of Herāt.” in  Āshnāyān-e rah-e `eshq: majmu`a maqālāti dar mo`arrefi-ye shānzda `āref-e bozorg, ed. M.R. Esfandyār, Tehran: Iran University Press, pp. 135-66.
  • (2000) “Majnun’s Image as a Serpent” in  The Poetry of Nizami Ganjavi: Knowledge, Love, and Rhetoric, Palgrave, New York, eds. J.W. Clinton & K. Talattof, pp. 83-95.

Translations from Persian

  • (2012)  Schaduw: Hushang Ebtehâdj, Vertaald door Hans (J.T.P.) de Bruijn & Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Leidschendam: Quist.
  • (2010)  Iemand die op niemand lijkt: gedichten van Forugh farrokhzâd, Vertaald en ingeleid door Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, Leidschendam: Quist.
  • (2006)  Aïda in de spiegel en andere gedichten: Ahmad Shamlu, vertaald door Asghar Seyed-Gohrab & Hans (J.T.P.) de Bruijn, Leidschendam: Quist.
  • (2006, second edition 2009)  Ik voel deernis met de tuin: gedichten van Forugh Farrokhzâd, Vertaald en ingeleid door A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, Leidschendam: Quist.
  • (2006, second edition 2007)  De klank van de voetstappen van het water: gedichten van Sohrab Sepehri, Vertaald en ingeleid door A.A. Seyed-Gohrab, Leidschendam: Quist.
  • (2006)  Shahrnush Parsipur: Vrouwen zonder mannen, Amsterdam: Bulaaq, (with G.R. van den Berg)

Selected administration and service to the profession

  • Chairman of the Department Middle Eastern Studies (Leiden Institute for Area Studies) (2011-2013)
  • Vice-Chairman of the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2009-2011).
  • Member of Council for Humanities (Lid van Raad voor Geesteswetenschappen) at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (May 2011- present)
  • Chairman of the Faculty Council (September 2010 to September 2011)
  • Member of the Royal Asiatic Society (2012-present)
  • Chairman of the  Dutch-Iranian Society (founded in 1959) (2008 - present)
  • Chairman of the Department of Persian Studies at Leiden University (2003 - 2008)

Supervision of Theses (a selection)

(2013) Iliyana Bozhova,  Poetry and Politics: Sir Muhammad Iqbal’s (1877-1938) Impact on the Islamic Revolutionary Discourse in Iran (Res-MA)
(2013) Janna Ruigrok,  Religion and Reform in Iran. A Political Analysis of Massoumeh Ebtekar: From Student Activist during the Hostage Crisis to Vice-President of Iran(Res-MA)
(2013) Faryaneh Fadaeiresketi,  Haiku: Persian Reception History and Poetic Aesthetics(Res-MA)
(2012) Shereen Honary,  Drawn Together: Narrating the Self and Other in Satrapi’s Persepolis (Res-MA)
(2011) Saeedeh Shahnahpour,  Persian Prison Poetry (Habsiyyat) in the Indian Sub-Continent: Mas’ud-e Sa’d Salman, a Pioneer (MA)
(2010) Amin Ghodratzadeh,  Aref-e Qazvini en de Constitutionele Revolutie (1905-1911): De Rol van Aref in historische, politieke en literaire ontwikkelingen (BA)
(2008) Mohammed Alsulami,  A courtly Debate, Nizari Quhistani’s Debate Between Day and Night (MA)
(2007) Abdul-Ghaffar Mohaghegh,  Desirable Profits: a Commentary and Analysis on Hajj Bulah’s al-Lata’if al-La’ali (MA)
(2006) Zhenrong Wang,  The Book of Slaves: A Study of Iqbal’s View on Colonialism (MA)
(2006) Mani Parsa,  Language Shift in Iran: Recent Developments in the Spread of the Spoken Persian in Iran (MA)
(2005) Marieke J.M. Nuur-Kersten,  Persian Politeness Principles: An Exploration of the Ta’arof System and its Effects on Interpersonal Communication and Interaction(MA)

Senior University Lecturer Persian Language and Literature

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies

Work address

Matthias de Vrieshof
Matthias de Vrieshof 4
2311 BZ Leiden
Room number 1.09b



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