Persian Studies Plus-One

CHRIS SINCLAIR/New University

UCI’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture was recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the PARSA Community Foundation. PARSA is the first foundation for the Persian community in the United States and the grant is dedicated to establishing a named, endowed lectureship for Persian language and culture.

The Samuel Jordan Center, which serves as a resource for the research, education and commemoration of Persian history and culture, will now be able to hire and permanently keep a premier lecturer. A variety of courses in the Persian language Farsi will be made available. This is meant to enhance language courses already being offered, which is currently limited to only beginning and intermediate levels.

“We had no other way to advance the language classes because we need funding to do that,” said Nasrin Rahimieh, who is the director of the Samuel Jordan Center and a comparative literature professor. “But now, with the PARSA Community grant, we can give students opportunities to improve their fluency and familiarity with the language.”

The lectureship will be the foundation of educating students in Persian, as well as introducing them to the cultural and historical aspects of Iran.

They plan to take a relatively new approach to learning a language where the focus is not just on language and literature. Instead, they will use methods that involve movies and cinematography, visual images and various media outlets. Students will be better able to engage through this interdisciplinary approach that takes a look at both current and historical events.

“As of now, these courses will be available to students who have already completed the beginning and intermediate Persian language classes, because the lectureship will be taught in Farsi,” Rahimieh said. “But we hope to propose some courses that are not purely in the Persian language.”

Every quarter will feature at least one course as a part of the PARSA Community lectureship. Rahimieh hopes to start offering the advanced courses during the next school year, and the Center is working hard to get all the classes approved.

Because it is an endowment, the lectureship is expected to be a permanent one.

“We are fortunate to have this opportunity and it is extremely important that we will be able to hire an endowed lecturer. The fact that this lectureship is endowed and will be here at UCI to stay is just wonderful,” Rahimieh said.

One of the Center’s main goals is to bring awareness and a critical understanding of Iran. According to Rahimieh, Southern California has one of the largest Persian communities in the nation, other than within Iran.

As a result of this, many Iranian families bear children that  are caught in a generational gap; while they can learn Persian at home as heritage speakers, they only have a very formal knowledge of the language to read and write.

“Expanding Persian studies of language and culture at UCI is like building a bridge between the generations,” Rahimieh said.

The program is also expected to strengthen university and community alliances.

Enrollment for the Persian language course has been steadily increasing since the Samuel Jordan Center was established in 2005 within the school of humanities. In fact, it is the first interdisciplinary center in the UC system that is dedicated strictly to Persian Studies that is not based within a Near East or Middle East studies department.

“It has definitely been very healthy and the language courses are well subscribed to,” Rahimieh said. “The only thing we haven’t been able to do is meet the overwhelming demand for more courses.”

UCI has yet to establish a major program, and humanities only fairly recently added Hebrew and Persian courses. Rahimieh believes that these classes are crucial in engaging and understanding the world, as well as the diverse languages and cultures.

“It certainly is a great achievement for us to get outside funding to offer Persian courses at UCI,” Rahimieh said.

She is very open to the idea of expanding the beginning, intermediate and upcoming advanced courses in Persian language and culture studies into a major and a minor program. Despite the funding limitations and current budgetary issues, Rahimieh does not rule it out.

“I have talked with my colleagues from many other departments and there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for the creation of a major in Persian,” Rahimieh said. “It will require a lot more resources and appointments, but I would be delighted to participate.”

The Center will continue to work closely with the nearby Iranian-American community to build and preserve the Iranian cultural and artistic heritage.

“The Center has enabled me to be both on campus and in the community to find a way to communicate and promote diversity,” Rahimieh said. “PARSA’s grant shows just how important university work is and I see the lectureship as a very critical stepping stone in the field of Persian studies.”