Iranian Studies at the Faculty of Oriental Studies


Iranian Studies have a long tradition in Poland. The diplomatic and trade relations that existed between the Republic of Poland and Safavid Persia determined the need for Persian language studies. At the court of Sigmund III Vasa and John Casimir, there was Samuel Otwinowski, a Persian translator, royal secretary and dragoman and great enthusiast of Persian literature, who translated into Polish The Gulistan of Sa’di. Jadwiga Zamoyska, the owner of the Kornik Castle, was fond of studying Persian language and calligraphy. Moreover, Persian manuscripts were in hands of many aristocratic families of the Republic of Poland, mainly in the Czartoryskis family.

Polish Jesuits travelled to Persia as well. Among them there was Tadeusz Krusiński, a translator and adviser to Shah Hossein (1694-1722), highly respected at the court. He wrote a book about the fall of the Safavid Dynasty.

Persian literature influenced Polish Romantic literature thanks to orientalists from the circle of friends of Adam Mickiewicz. Among the enthusiasts of Persian literature there was Alexander Chodźko (1804-1891), a Polish explorer, poet and translator. His translation of Persian literature undoubtedly had a significant impact on increasing fascination with Persian literature that resulted in development of Iranian Studies in Poland.

The beginnings of Iranian Studies in Poland go back to the pre-war period and derive from two Schools of Oriental Studies – Vienna and Lvov. The Vienna School of Oriental Studies concentrated on the Middle East Region recognized as culturally homogenous due to the widespread Islamic religion. Researchers paid their attention mainly to the issues related to Islam. The methodological basis originated from philological studies based on Arabic, Persian and Turkish languages, where Turkish was essential because of the cultural relations existed between Austria and Turkey.

The Lvov School of Oriental Studies largely focused on issues related to linguistics and religion. Iranian cultural and historical studies were connected with Indian studies rather than studies on Islam.

At the University of Warsaw two traditions of Schools of Oriental Studies had met. Initially, the Iranian Studies Section was a part of the Section of Turkish Studies founded in 1933. On that time, Persian language, beside Arabic and Turkish languages, was one of the three taught languages. It brought an opportunity for development of the further Iranian Studies, which primarily originated from the philological backgrounds. Before the World War II, Professor Ananiasz Zajączkowski, a scholar of Iranian and Turkish studies and Head of Section of Turkish Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies from 1933, started a lecture series devoted to Persian mystic poetry of Jalaladin Rumi.

Iranian researches were undertaken within the Indian studies either. That trend was inspired by Professor Stanisław Schayer (1899-1941), the world famous scholar in Indian and Buddhism philosophy with the great organizational skills. Professor Schayer in his publications on religion studies drew attention to the meaning of the pre-Islamic tradition of Iran and the role of Indo-Iranian cultural substrate.

The first years after the World War II brought slow but systematic development of Iranian Studies continued within the Section of Turkish Studies, reopened in 1945. Iranian Studies gradually became more important and distinctive by indicating the input of Iranian culture in the process of creation of the Muslim civilization. Undoubtedly, the impulse for development of Iranian Studies was the Millennium Anniversary of Birthday of Avicenna, the foremost Iranian scholar, initiated by the World Peace Council in 1951. On that occasion, many conferences and sessions were held as well as several publications issued. One of the most important events was the international congress devoted to Avicenna, held in Tehran on 21-30 April 1951. Scholars from all around the world participated in the congress, among them Professor Ananiasz Zajączkowski from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw. The millennium anniversary provoked to develop researches on Ibn Sina works and resulted in numerous publications devoted to Avicenna’s life and creation. Many of them were translated by Professor Ananiasz Zajączkowski, whose work was later extended by Bogdan Składanek, a scholar of Iranian Studies, who translated and published Avicenna Book (Księga wiedzy Awicenny) in 1974.

The development of Iranian researches allowed extending the didactic programme of the Section of Turkish Studies to Persian language as well as lectures devoted to Iranian literature and history. Researches were conducted and developed by Maria and Bogdan Składanek, two alumni of the Section of Turkish Studies, who in 1956 joined the staff of the Section later upgraded to the Department of Turkish Studies in 1968. The results of their researches were two doctoral dissertations (both defended in 1966) devoted to Persian literature (M. Składankowa, Structure of the Poetic Picture in Hafiz Ghazals (Struktura obrazu poetyckiego w gazalach Hafeza)) and history of Iran (B. Składanek, Feudal Freehold in Medieval Iran (Feudalna własnosc ziemi w średniowiecznym Iranie)).

The designation of two doctors allowed establishing the Section of Iranian Studies and arranging its first admission at the University of Warsaw in 1971, harmonized with the 2500th Anniversary of the Persian Empire. The ceremony held in Persepolis once again attracted scholars of Iranian Studies from all around the world, among them dr. B. Składanek, dr. B. Majewska and dr. Zofia Józefowicz-Czabak from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw. It was an additional impulse for the further development of Iranian Studies as well as contacts with Iran. It resulted in the scholarships to Iran for dr. Maria Składankowa in 1973 and two students Monika Chwilczynska and Hanna Krzyzanowska in 1977.

In 1996, the Senate of the University of Warsaw established the Department of Iranian Studies headed by Professor Maria Składankowa. Since that time, the Department of Iranian Studies has become a self-developing entity at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the University of Warsaw.

Iranian researches gradually spread into different directions. Nevertheless, the Iranian studies mainly grew up from philological backgrounds, undertaken by Professor Ananiasz Zajączkowski, who translated some Hafiz Ghazals, and his follower dr. Barbara Majewska. Her translation of The Blind Owl (Ślepa sowa) of Sadegh Hedayat as well as modern Persian poetry and essays devoted to Iranian literature and culture deserve the significant consideration. Translation of modern Persian poetry was in a scope of interest of dr. Zofia Józefowicz-Czabak. She translated Wits and Wisdoms (Blazenstwa i madrosci) of Ubayd Zakani. Among works of Warsaw scholars of Iranian Studies there are translations of philosophical and historical masterpieces. The most significant one is a critical translation of The History of Sultan Mas’ud (Historia sułtana Masuda) of Abol Fazl Bayhaqi by Professor Bogdan Składanek.

The main contribution to the development of the Department of Iranian Studies, including the research works, department management and didactic programme had Maria and Bogdan Składanek. In the course of Iranian studies literature researches gradually appeared. Maria Składankowa took attempts to research Hafiz poetry as well as oriental theory of literature in general. The results of her studies devoted to Iranian mythology were published in her book Myths of the King’s Book. Mythical Symbols and Patterns in Shahname of Ferdousi. (Mity królewskiej księgi. Symbole i wzorce mityczne w Szahname Ferdousiego), in1981.

In 1979, dr. Maria Składankowa obtained a ph.d. hab. degree and in 1989 a title of professor of humanistic studies. Her further researches altered her to cultural studies. For about 40 years Professor Maria Składankowa has been concentrated mostly on Persian literature considered as a form of expressing specific visions of Persian culture and its symbolism, closely related to the philosophical and religious thought of that cultural circle.

One of the most significant achievements of Prof. Maria Składankowa was to formulate the existential triad theory (triada klas wieku) as the basis for the mythic paradigms and literature patterns in Iranian literature. Another such rule directing the systems of symbols in Persian literature in general (also in folk and philosophical-religious literature) is the binary system, the game of contradictions, from which she managed to distinguish two types of dual systems (so far considered as one with possible alternations) such as: totalitarian-hierocratic dualism with “materialistic” orientation and personalistic (“heretic”) dualism of Gnostic type. The researches of Professor Maria Składankowa resulted in many books and articles, among them a comprehensive monographic paper Persian Culture (Kultura perska), issued in Warsaw in 1995, where she looks for the key paradigms of Persian culture within the past centuries.

Despite Persian literature and culture researches, since the beginning studies on history of Iran were initiated and conducted by Bogdan Składanek. Bogdan Składanek is the only specialist in Medieval history of Iran and the foremost authority in that field of science. He was especially fond of socio-political processes that took place after the Arabic conquest of Iran, among them the Kharijits uprisings (described in many articles).The most important publication on that subject was his book Doctrines and Socio-Political Movements of “Centuries of Silence” /mid. VII – mid. IX/. Basis Formation of Political Renaissance of Iran (Doktryny i ruchy społeczno-polityczne “wieków milczenia” /poł. VII – poł. IX w./. Formowanie się podstaw politycznego odrodzenia Iranu, in which he shows the processes preceding Persian political renaissance after the Arabic conquest. The book was prepared based on extensive Persian and Arabic bibliography.

Bogdan Składanek, in many of his publications, undertook the detailed issues of the following subjects: forms of ownership in Muslim countries, economic relations between Iran and Europe, governmental structure of Persia and Shi’ism. In 1977, Bogdan Składanek achieved a ph.d. hab. degree of humanistic studies and a title of professor in 1987. His research and didactic work (complete lecture series of history of Iran) was enclosed in a three-volume book The History of Persia (Historia Persji), which includes the period from the foundation of the Persian Empire until the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty. It is the first such publication in Polish language.

The research interests of Professor Składanek related to the Muslim Medieval period conveyed the area of Afghanistan either. The detailed analysis of political situation in the country of Ghaznavids, that precedes his translation of The History of Sultan Mas’ud (Historia sułtana Masuda), is very innovative.

The studies began by Professors Maria and Bogdan Składanek are continued by their students. Researches on literature were conducted by Monika Chwilczyńska-Wawrzyniak, who wrote her doctoral dissertation about the romantic heroes in eposes of Nezami Ganjavi and received a ph.d. degree of humanistic studies in 1990.

Studies on history of Afghanistan and its political tradition initiated by Professor Bogdan Składanek are continued by his student Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo. Her scholarship to the University of Kabul in 1976-1977 enabled to develop her interests in the Department of Contemporary Asia Issues in the Institute of Oriental Studies, where she was working as an assistant-internship. Shutdown of the Department of Contemporary Asia Issues and her transfer to the Department of Iranian Studies did not interrupt her Afghan researches. Hence, within the Department of Iranian Studies, a project of Afghan Studies was prepared (in cooperation with Andrzej Ananicz), which had to be suspended due to the political situation in Afghanistan (overthrow of the Republic of Afghanistan in 1978 and the following war).

Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo in her interdisciplinary researches concentrates on the normative-axiological aspects of Afghan tradition, social role of Sufism as well as socio-political phenomenon in contemporary Afghanistan. The result of her studies was a doctoral dissertation entitled Political Concepts of Mohammad Daud and Their Realization in the Light of Afghan Relations (1953-1978) (Koncepcje polityczne Mohammada Dauda i ich realizacja na tle ówczesnych stosunków afgańskich (1953-1978)) defended in 1984. The most important publication of Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo is her book Margins of Political Imagination of Afghan People (Granice wyobraźni politycznej Afgańczyków), in which she explains the role of political tradition in contemporary Afghanistan. In 1999 she obtained a ph.d. hab. degree. In another book Afghanistan. The Birth of the Republic (Afganistan. Narodziny republiki) she deals with the development of republicanism in Afghanistan. Moreover, she undertakes the comparative Euro-Asian researches in cooperation with the Interdisciplinary Euro-Asian Studies Laboratory of the Jagiellonian University.

In 2006 Jolanta Sierakowska-Dyndo received a title of professor. Her studies on Afghan tradition have initiated an innovatory approach that refers to archetypal notions and their understanding in culture of Iran and Afghanistan, which is being continued by her students dr. Sylwia Surdykowska and dr. Magdalena Zaborowska.

Sylwia Surdykowska obtained a ph.d. degree in 2004 based on her dissertation entitled: The Idea of Shahadat in Persian Cultural Paradigm. The Analysis of Shahadat based on Contemporary Iranian Political-Religious Publications. (Idea ofiary i męczeństwa w perskim paradygmacie kulturowym. Analiza pojęcia shahadatu na podstawie współczesnych irańskich publikacji polityczno-religijnych). She wrote several articles about modern socio-religious thought and a book The Idea of Shahadat in Persian Culture (Idea shahadatu w kulturze perskiej) published in 2006, in which she presents the origin and development of Shahadat in Iranian culture from the philological, anthropological and psychological points of view.

Magdalena Zaborowska writes about the meaning of aghl in Persian culture.

The significant impact on the development of Iranian Studies in Warsaw had works on glottodidactics, successfully initiated by Professor Bogdan Skladanek with his book devoted to the Persian language grammar. Also Kaveh Pur Rahnama (M.A.), a retired senior academic of the Department of Iranian Studies, who continuously cooperated with the Institute of Oriental Studies, contributed much to that field of studies. He wrote four academic books for Persian language study used by all generations of students. The co-author of two of them was dr. Monika Chwilczynska-Wawrzyniak, who also wrote a monographic paper Persian Language (Język perski). Persian language researches were undertaken by an alumnus of the Departments of Iranian and Turkish Studies dr. Andrzej Ananicz, who wrote his doctoral dissertation in 1980 entitled The Persian Language Grammar of Franciszek Mesgien-Meniński in the light of XVII-century European treatise (Gramatyka języka perskiego Franciszka Mesgiena-Menińskiego na tle XVII-wiecznych europejskich opracowań tego języka).

Philological traditions that dominated over the first period of Iranian Studies development, in order to make place for new studies of cultural researches, are continued by the new generation of scholars of Iranian Studies. Ivonna Novicka, an alumnus of the Department of Iranian Studies, a Persian and English translator, an employee of the library of the Departments of Iranian and Turkish Studies, is an author of translations of Persian modern prose and poetry. She translated a selection of Persian modern stories Cyprus and Fire. Modern Persian Stories (Kolacja cyprysu i ognia. Współczesne opowiadania irańskie). Moreover, she initiated translation of Polish poetry into Persian. Among her works we can find some selected poems of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska and poetry of Wisława Szymborska.

The development of Iranian studies contributed to the didactic programme of the studies, which beside intensive course of Persian language and regular literature classes includes cultural studies classes, such as: Cultural Anthropology, History of Iranian Art, a monographic lecture devoted to Persian music.

In recent years, the cooperation with universities of Iran, suspended by the Islamic Revolution in 1979, has restarted. According to the Agreement on Cultural, Scientific and Educational Cooperation between the Republic of Poland and the Islamic Republic of Iran, every three years renewed, students have an opportunity to participate in one year and/or one month scholarships and academics in research scholarships, respectively. For several years, Iranian academic teachers have come to the Department of Iranian Studies of the University of Warsaw to teach Persian language and literature. They are financed by the government of Iran within the programme of Persian culture promotion.

Another form of cooperation between Poland and Iran are Polish-Persian seminars that refer to the idea of Dialogue Among Civilizations. Seminars are organized in cooperation with foreign ministries of both countries and are held regularly in Tehran and Warsaw. The last seminar Iran-Poland-Understanding of Dialogue took place in Warsaw in May 2005.

The Polish version of the article of J. Sierakowska-Dyndo and S. Surdykowska was published in Iranistyka, w: 75 lat Instytutu Orientalistycznego Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego (red. M. Popko), Warszawa 2007, s.101-111