Abstract Prof. Kianoosh Rezania
Kianoosh Rezania (Center for Religious Studies, Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Abstract: Zoroastrianism in the Early Islamic Period: Its Participation in ʿAbbāsid Theological-Philosophical Discourse and its Absence in the Transmission of Sasanian Culture
Zoroastrian literature blossomed in the ʿAbbāsid period. The number of texts produced during this period exceeds the amount of all texts transmitted about Zoroastrianism from before the coming of Islam. The religious discourse across the faiths seems to have given rise to a new category of theological-philosophical treatises. Zoroastrian theological literary activities under the Sasanians were limited to engagement in authoritative texts, meaning that priests penned authoritative translations of and commentaries on the authoritative foundational Avestan texts. Both were then transmitted together. In contrast, Zoroastrian theological treatises of the ʿAbbāsid period are based upon those authoritative texts.
The first part of the paper presents this transformation of perspective and its implications. It will measure the impact of Zoroastrian theological activities on the ʿAbbāsid inter-religious discourse and will address the linguistic barriers for measuring that impact. The paper will also try to highlight how the ʿAbbāsid inter-religious discourse in turn enriched the Zoroastrian theological literature and ask to what extent Zoroastrianism sustained the new developments under Islamic rule.
The second part extends the theological focus of the first part to the transmission of Sasanian cultural assets in the early Islamic period in general. The hypothesis that Zoroastrian priests only participated marginally in the transmission of Sasanian cultural heritage to Islamic Iran, in contrast to converted dehqāns, will be discussed and tested.
There are two different approaches of ʿAbbāsid historiography and Zoroastrianism to the Sasanian heritage: One would expect that Zoroastrians might have been emboldened to preserve and transmit Sasanian cultural assets to their later generations because of their linguistic and ethnical affiliation. In contrast, however, it can be shown that they were not very engaged in this respect. They were almost exclusively concerned with the religious affairs of their community and did not consider themselves the transmitters of Sasanian cultural heritage.
Zoroastrians seemingly choose a narrow perspective on Sasanian culture and concentrated on religious matters. By contrast, the ʿAbbāsids seem to have pursued a different path: They absorbed Sasanian political and cultural assets, islamicized them and made them their own. Hereupon, the paper will claim that whereas the ʿAbbāsids emblazed their empire with the Sasanian political and cultural heritage, the Zoroastrian community lost that heritage through their concentration on religious affairs. The question will also be raised as to what extent the Zoroastrians chose their exclusive approach in regard to Sasanian cultural assets as a response and rejection of the more inclusive position adopted by the ʿAbbāsids.