Zahra Abtahi: Studying anthropology in Iran

Studying anthropology in Iran

Zahra Abtahi

Well, for this post, I decided to write a little about anthropology in Iran’s universities, to make you a bit familiar about its situation in Iran’s educational system.

Anthropology is almost a new academic program in Iran, dating back to around 50 years ago. Still, there is a conflict about translating the word “anthropology” into Persian. There are two main translations: Mardomshenasi and Ensanshenasi. The former is mostly used by scholars who are more interested in the traditional concept of the word, working mostly on tribes and nomads and villages, while the latter refers partly to new subjects like cyber space, cities and metropolises. And at last, there are a few experts who tends to stay away from the conflict and simply use the words “anthropology” in English.

In B.A. there are, more or less, around four state universities that offer anthropology: University of Tehran (known as the best university of human sciences in the whole country, and of course, it?s my university!),  Bouali University, Mazandaran University and Zahedan University, all in other provinces. But when it comes to M.A., among state universities ?which are so important in Iran because they are free and more reliable- only UT offers anthropology and naturally it is very competitive to be accepted.

Now, here, in UT, faculty of social sciences, and I am in Anthropology M.A. program, and want to introduce my classmates a little bit to give you a general picture of the situation:

I have 16 classmates, 4 males and 12 females. Mostly at their 20s except two males, mostly studied social sciences in their B.A. (10 people) and others come from music, civil engineering, Arabic language, history, Persian and French languages, and math. Welcome to the bazaar! You can find here whoever you want!

Obviously, this expanded range of educational backgrounds has its own pros and cons: the light part is that it causes different discussions in different points that are interesting and nice to know about, though the dark side is that professors have to explain subjects again to newcomers which others have studied around four years.

Telling about the educational atmosphere in the course, I should say that most of our professors have studied in France, so the French side of anthropology is dominant here.

We have to pass 32 units: new theories in anthropology, cultural archaeology, languages and ethnic groups in Iran, cultural semiotics, philosophy of social sciences, research methods in  anthropology, urban anthropology, culture and technology, Muslim thinkers’ thoughts, sociology theories, mythology, 6 optional unites ? I have taken anthropology of literature, sociology of religion, and participatory methods of research- and thesis (4 units).

Knowing all these parts, if I want to state my own opinion about the subject, I would say that studying anthropology M.A. ? even if you take part in the best university of Iran- is not something worthy. It’s boring and repetitive and exhausting. Nothing specifically new is offered, nothing more than B.A. is presented. (Now we come to the main question: why do I study that, then? Which I have no answer for it!)

Here, passing 2 years in M.A., I can see why a few of my classmates in B.A. go abroad ? mostly Canada-for further studies, why some of them changed their course to something else ? philosophy, women studies, art researches, demography, ?- and why most of them decided not to study anymore.

1 thought on “Zahra Abtahi: Studying anthropology in Iran

  1. Most of students in Iran specially science field of study (rather than engineering) in most cases before the end of education, these results are proved that couldn’t use their knowledge for better life & work in their country and then try to migrate or await for nothing..
    sounds tragic

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