Research Department of Iranology

By: Najmeh Malek Poor

Iranology refers to a collection of scientific and systematic studies in all branches of the field of human sciences relating to the history, culture, and geography of Iran in various historical periods. Orientalists consider Iranology to be one of the subcategories of Orientalism and use the term "Iranologist" to refer to a scholar who deals with studies concerning the various manifestations of Iranian culture and civilization.

Similar to other branches of Orientology - such as Egyptology and Sinology - Iranology or Iranian studies presently enjoys an independent research status. In fact, conferences, constitutions, and journals dedicated to Iranology testify to this claim. However, while conducting studies focusing on Iran, researchers could never ignore explorations and inquiries in relation to Orientology. Rather, it is deemed useful to generalize Orientalist characteristics and judgments to Iran and Iran-related problems.

Iranology is a newly-coined term which was initially used in the field of Orientalism. Another title that is also used to refer to this research area is "Iranian studies", which was included in English dictionaries as early as the second half of the 18th century. It was Henry Corbin who used the term "Iranology" for the first time in 1946 in a report entitled "Present Status of Iranian Studies in Iran", which he sent to the Royal Academy of Inscriptions and Literature in Paris.

The discipline of Iranology, as with other branches of Orientalism, was initially explored by Europeans. The results of these investigations, like those related to other disciplines, were also used in order to dominate the East for colonial purposes. As much as military officers and economists, expansionist governments also needed some experts who were well-versed in the culture, language, and psychology of their intended or dependent nations in order to facilitate the task of exploiting and administering their countries.

It can certainly be claimed that many of the great Iranologists of the world began their work by relying on the economic and political support of colonial countries. As a result, they found access to many rare and invaluable sources of knowledge about Iran and the East. Accordingly, in its process of development, Iranology was limited to European studies on Orientalism. It was also related to politics in different forms and functioned in the some mental framework as that dominating Orientalist trends. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the endeavors and services of the many European researchers and scientists who had nothing to do with colonialism, in particular, and the politics of the time, in general, in recognizing and introducing the various aspects of Iranian civilization, culture, and history during the relatively short history of Iranology. What is of prime importance here is that we must follow a critical approach in examining the methods, research activities, and works of Iranologists, and identify their shortcomings and defects while appreciating their strengths. This is particularly important at present because Iranian researchers and scholars themselves are now active authorities in this field, and their efforts in the realm of Iranology are greatly noteworthy and eye-catching.

In general, the studies conducted from past centuries up until now can be divided into two groups: The first consists of studies that have been organized and carried out on the basis of no scientific insight or critical approach and which are mainly based on observed or anecdotal data. Such works are usually related to historical or pre-scientific periods. The works of Greek, Roman, and Muslim writers, as well as the writings of ambassadors, travelers, and merchants can be classified into this group.

The second group consists of the investigations, research activities, studies, explorations, and inquiries performed on the basis of a critical approach with the purpose of introducing Iranian culture and civilization. Naturally, some of these works will be completed in future, while others will gradually become out-dated and be replaced with newer studies and investigations. As we know, a part of the works included in this group is no longer considered valid today.

Within the policies and strategic programs of the new President and the Research Vice President of the Iranology Foundation, the Research Department of Ironology intends to follow activities and studies related to Iranology as much as possible. At the same time, it intends to study and examine the works of Iranologists all over the world based on scientific criteria. In this way, it intends to open a new chapter in this field with the cooperation of Iranian and foreign thinkers and Ironologists and through employing some new and efficient research methods.