Iraj Bashiri

A Biography


copyright © 2007


See Persian text.
See Tajiki text.


            Dr. Iraj Bashiri, Professor of History at the University of Minnesota, USA, was born on July 31, 1940 (9 Amordad, 1319; 25 Jamadi al-Sani, 1359 AH), in the city of Behbahan, Iran. He completed his early education in the towns of Damaneh and Daran in Fereydan and his high school in Isfahan and Shiraz. He graduated in1961 with a diploma in mathematics from the Hadj Qavam High School in Shiraz. While in high school, Bashiri showed a distinct talent for the English language. In 1959, he emerged from the national competitions held at Ramsar as Iran's top student in English.

            Between1960 and 1963, Bashiri studied English Language and Literature at Pahlavi University (present-day Shiraz University) and in 1963 graduated at the top of his class. While studying at Pahlavi, he also worked as a regional reporter for the Kayhan Daily in the Fars province and taught English at the British Council in Shiraz and English literature at Pahlavi University.

            In1964, Bashiri left Iran to study English Literature in England and, in 1966, he traveled to the United States to continue his education. In 1968, he received his M.A. degree in General Linguistics from the University of Michigan and, in1972, his Ph.D. in Iranian Linguistics from the same University. Bashiri's dissertation is based on Ibn Sina's concept of Existence (budan). He shows that the Persian verb budan (to be) has its own syntax. This syntax in the context of the concept of Becoming (shodan) expresses transition, and in the context of Doing (kardan) expresses action.

            In the United States, too, in addition to studying linguistics, Bashiri taught Persian at the University of Michigan and trained Peace Corps volunteers in Vermont, New York, and New Jersey. In 1972, he was employed as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Iranian and Turkish Languages and Literatures at the University of Minnesota. During his early years at Minnesota, he used the theoretical framework that he had developed in his dissertation as the base for writing Persian for Beginners. This book, which has been revised four times, is available in both English and Russian languages. Bashiri was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Professor in 1996.

            Professor Bashiri's courses at Minnesota include Iranian history (from ancient to modern times), Persian Literature (poetry and prose), and Iranian Languages and  Linguistics. He also has developed and taught courses on the history of the peoples of Central Asia and Afghanistan. In 1980, he was recognized as one of the College of Liberal Arts' Distinguished Teachers.

            Dr. Bashiri's areas of research are extensive. Below four areas of his expertise are briefly reviewed: Hedayat's Blind Owl, Firdowsi's Shahname, and the Sufic ghazals (sonnets) of Hafiz. He spent the first 15 years of his career working on a better understanding of Iran of the 1920's and 1930's and, in that context, the works of Sadeq Hedayat, especially his masterpiece, The Blind Owl. First, he translated Hedayat's short stories into English and eventually undertook the translation and analysis of The Blind Owl. A structuralist, Bashiri's views of Hedayat are thought provoking. By relating The Blind Owl to its two Indian sources, i.e., The Buddha Karita and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, he hypothesizes that Hedayat might have skillfully used the life of the Buddha and his quest for freedom as a subtext in the novella.

            In order to understand Bashiri's study of the structure of the novella, it is helpful if the reader is familiar with The Blind Owl and with the contents and import of Hedayat's Indian sources. It also needs to be borne in mind that structural analysis merely describes how the work has been crafted. The work's artistic, socio-political, and literary values must be assessed separately. With that said, in the Tibetan materials, after the individual dies, his soul must recognize the Clear Light. In order to see the Clear Light, he must see through the attractive façade that Desire (read maya) projects to distract him. If he ignores the attractive images and concentrates on the Clear light, he will achieve freedom from the Wheel (nirvana).Otherwise he will be reborn. That is the principle. The process is somewhat more involved.

            The attractive image that distracts the individual is a reflection of his own past deeds. He sees his own soul standing before the Lord of Death, offering him a handful of black pebbles. Seeing this sign of attraction to earthly desires, the Lord of Death laughs out loud. Frightened, the individual falls into a swoon. The soul of the individual, too, fails to cross the River of Forgetfulness and falls into the river. From there, the river carries the soul to the Place of the Wombs where it is reborn.

            Translated into The Blind Owl, this is how the subtext of the novella takes shape. The narrator fails to bring down the wine flask because he is attracted to a scene in which his ethereal double offers a stem of black lilies to an Odds-and-Ends Man. The Odds-and Ends Man laughs a hideous laughter causing the narrator to fall into a swoon. The narrator’s double falls in the Suren River and is taken to Shahabdul Azim where, the narrator is reborn. Put differently, in the novella, the individual is the narrator, the Clear Light is the wine flask, the double is the ethereal being or the soul of the narrator, the black pebbles are the black lilies, the Lord of Death is the Odds-and-Ends Man, the River of Forgetfulness is the Suren River, and the Place of the Wombs is Shahabdul Azim.

            During his second life, the narrator forces himself to recognize desire so that it cannot destine him to yet another birth. To achieve his goal, he studies the manner and customs of all those around him including his wife, his nanny, the odds-and-ends man, the butcher, and the people of the city of Ray at large. He specially pays attention to their relationship with his wife whom he calls the "Whore." At the end, it dawns upon him that he must avoid, nay destroy his wife, and he does. Bashiri provides details about the various aspects of his analysis, but those details are outside the purview of a short biography.

            Bashiri's research on Firdowsi is centered on Firdowsi's use of the concept of the farr. He distinguishes the farr as the fulcrum of government among the Iranian peoples. In mythical times, he says, the farr distinguished the house of Tur from the House of Iraj. In historical times, it has sustained Iranian identity and bestowed continuity and longevity to the land and people of Iran. The results of this research appear in Firdowsi's Shahname: A Thousand Years After published by the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan.

            Dr. Bashiri has also contributed to our better understanding of the Sufic ghazals of Hafiz. He rejects the theory that the couplets in Hafiz's sonnets are haphazardly put together as one would put pearls on a string to make a necklace. He shows that each ghazal has a vigorous structure and is built around a defined theme; the themes are mostly, although not exclusively, centered on life in the khaneqah (cloister).He gives the relationship between the morshid (master) and the morid (disciple), in gugtaburun shudi ba tamashai mahi now, wherein the morshid reproaches the morid for abandoning the path for greener fields, as an example. He further states that the Sufic sonnets have been composed to meet the needs of a particular group and that understanding the structure of the Sufic ghazal might shed light on our analysis of the structure of the English sonnet.

            The most recent contribution of Bashiri is about ancient Iran and Egypt. After comparing myths and analyzing archaeological finds and cultural similarities he concludes that Darius I was not only a divinely appointed king of Iran but also a powerful and popular pharaoh of Egypt. He distinguishes Darius I as a pharaoh whose court rivaled the splendor of the court of Amunhotep III.

            Several years before the fall of the Soviet Union, Dr. Bashiri expanded his research and teaching to cover the history and culture of Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, before the collapse of the USSR, and thereafter, he made several trips to the republics and, at times, remained there for a period in order to view life in the republics first hand. From among the republics he concentrated on the issues connected with Tajik ethnicity and the reaction of Muslim Tajiks to Sovietization and atheism. He has written extensively on the history and culture of the Tajiks. From among his contributions, mention can be made of his study of the life and works of Saddridin Aini. In 1996, the State University of Tajikistan in the name of Lenin awarded Professor Bashiri an honorary doctorate in history and culture and in 1997, the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan bestowed upon him the title of International Academician. Indeed, Hujjat al-Islam Akbar Rafsanjani and Dr. Iraj Bashiri are the only Iranians to have received the honor. He also has contributed to a better understanding, in the West, of the works of the Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov.

            While teaching at the University of Minnesota, Bashiri also taught and carried out research at other universities including the University of Michigan, the University of Texas at Austin, the State University of Kyrgyzstan, and the Academy of Sciences of Kazakhstan.

            Finally, while carrying out research and teaching, Prof. Bashiri has also been involved in the administration of his home University. Between 1975 and 1979, he was the head of the Middle East Studies Department and later the South Asian Studies Department at the University of Minnesota. Several times between 1987 and 2005,he was the Chair of, first, the Russian and East European Studies, and later the Slavic and Central Asian Languages and Literatures. He also has been active in College committees, especially in relation to curricula. In 2005, he was both the Head of the College of Liberal Arts Assembly and the Head of the Executive Council of the College. Between 2005 and 2007, he served as the Interim Director of the Institute of Linguistics, English as a Second Language and Slavic Languages and Literatures. During his sabbatical in 2007-2008, he was a lead researcher at the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan working on the philosophy of the 16th century theologian Mullah Sadra Shirazi. In 2012, he published his research on ancient Iran in a book entitled Ancient Iran: Cosmology, Mythology, History and in 2014 his work on Mullah Sadra Shirazi entitled Modern Iranian Philosophy: From Ibn Sina to Mulla Sadra Shirazi was published. He is currently working on a volume dealing with Shi'ite Iran from the time of Mulla Sadra Shirazi to Ayatollah Khomeini.


Selected Bibliography


Modern Iranian Philosophy: From Ibn Sina to Mulla Sadra Shirazi by Iraj Bashiri, Cognella Publishers, 2014.

The Blind Owl,, 3rd. revised translation, 2013.

Audible Audio Edition: Ancient Iran: Cosmology, Mythology, History by Iraj Bashiri, Cognella Publishers, 2013.

Ancient Iran: Cosmology, Mythology, History by Iraj Bashiri, Cognella Publishers, 2012.

The Ishraqi Philosophy of Jalal al-Din Rumi, 2008.

The Impact of Egypt on Ancient Iran, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 2007.(English, Tajiki, Persian, with summary in Russian)

     (Also available at:

Prominent Tajik Figures of the Twentieth Century, The International Borbad Foundation, 2003.(Also available at:

The Samanids and the Revival of the Civilization of the Iranian Peoples, Dushanbe, 1998.(Also available at:

Firdowsi's Shahname: 1000 Years After,  Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 1994. (Also partially available at:

From the Hymns of Zarathustra to the Songs of Borbad, author Part I; translated and edited Part II, Tajikistan National Commission for UNESCO, The Ministry of Culture of Tajikistan, and The International Borbad Foundation, 2003.(Available at:

Tajikistan in the 20th Century, (ed). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Prague,1999-2002 (also available at:

The History of a National Catastrophe, by Rahim Masov (translated from Tajiki by Iraj Bashiri), Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, 1996 (trans. available at:

The Nowruz Scrolls, republished in 4 languages (English, Persian, Tajiki, Russian), The Borbad Foundation of the Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 2004. (Available at:

Kamal Khujandi: Epoch and Its Importance in the History of Central Asian Civilization, Tehran-Dushanbe, 1996. (Partially available at:

The Fiction of Sadeq Hedayat, Amir Kabir Institute of Iranian Studies, Mazda Publishers, 1984. (Partially available at:

Beginnings to AD 2000: A Comprehensive Chronology of Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iran, 2001 (available at:

Persidskij yazykdla nachinaushchikh Osnovnoj kurs (trans. of Persian for Beginners by V. Bazukin), Nashriyyat-i Paivand Homa, Dushanbe, 2000. (available at: )

'To Be' as the Origin of Syntax: A Persian Framework, 1973. Bibliotheca Islamica, Middle Eastern Languages & Linguistics #2, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Persian for Beginners, 1972, 1975, 1981, 1991. Available at:



            "The Isfahan of Mullah Sadra: Preliminary Notes on the Shi'ification of Iran," The Culture and Art of Isfahan During the 16th and 17th Centuries, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 2007, pp. 62-75.

"Medieval Islamic Thought: The Interplay of Faith and Reason," in Abu Ali Sinaand His Contribution to the History of World Culture, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 2005,pp. 113-160.

"The Role of Farr in Firdowsi's Shahname," Firdowsi's Shahname: 1000 Years After, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, Dushanbe, 1994, pp. 178-188 (available at: ); in Paivand, No. 12, December 1993, pp. 9-12 (in Persian); in Sada-i Sharq, nos. 3-4, 1994 (in Tajiki).

"Mazdian Cosmology," in Zoroastrianism and Its Value in the Development of Civilization of Near and Middle East People, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, et al, 2003, pp. 95-119. (Available at: )

"Identities in Perspective: Ancient Roots of Present-Day Conflicts," Spiritual Culture of Tajiks and Its Importance in World History of Civilization, Academy of Sciences of Tajikistan, 2002, pp. 138-158.

"Muslims and Communists Vie for Power in Tajikistan," AACAR Bulletin, Vol. VI, No. 1, spring, 1993, pp. 7-12. (Available at: )

"Hafiz' Shirazi Turk: A Structuralist's Point of View," The Muslim World, Part I, LXIX, no. 3, 1979, pp. 1788-197; Part II,LXIX, no. 4, 1979, pp. 248-268. (Available at:

"Hafiz and the Sufic Ghazal," Studies in Islam, Vol. XVI, no. 1, January 1979, pp. 34-69. (Available at: ) 

"The Message of Hedayat," Studies in Islam, January 1980, pp. 30-56. (Available at: )

"Russian Loanwords in Persian and Tajiki," Persian Studies in America, Studies in honor of Professor Mohammad Ali Jazayery, edited by Prof. Mehdi Marashi, Bethesda, Md: Iranbooks, 1994.