10th Anniversary Workshops: Religion & Global Public Life

Marriage, Family, Religion, and Culture in the Multiethnic Empires of Ancient Iran

Co-sponsored by the Iranian Studies Initiative, the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Funds at UCSB, and the Gramian-Emrani Foundation

Schedule of Events


Chair: Janet Afary, UCSB

1. John W.I. Lee, UCSB

Achaemenid Mixed Marriages and Other Relationships: Perspectives from the Western Frontiers

2. Jenny Rose, Claremont Graduate University

“For the increase of the house:” Ancient Iranian Marriage and the Family in the Achaemenid period

3. Tamara Eskenazi, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Jacob L. Wright, Emory University

The Bible and Jewish Marriage in the Achaemenid Period

4. Caroline Waerzeggers, University of Leiden

Why did Babylonian elite marriage lose its exclusivity under Persian imperial rule?  

LUNCH 12:30-2:00


Chair: Haleh Emrani, UC Irvine

1. Touraj Daryaee, UC Irvine

Queens, Mothers and Wives: The Noble Ladies of the Early Sasanian Empire

2. Haleh Emrani, UC Irvine

“Who would be mine for the day!” Temporary Marriage and its Possible Legal and Cultural Roots

3. Dvora Weisberg, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Jewish Marriages in the Sasanian Period: Views from Rabbinic Sources

Panel 3: Saturday (10:00 – 12:30) Discussion of Both Panels


Panel I.  Arabia, Central Asia and the Nation-State Identity (10:00-12:30)

Adrienne Edgar, Dept of History, UCSB – Chair and Discussant

1. Zamira Yusufjonova, Dept of History, UCSB

The beneficiaries of Soviet state feminism: Tajik women professionals and their short-lived influence: 1953-1982

2. Cynthia Kaplan, Dept of Political Science, UCSB

Tatar and Kazakh Identity: Nation and State Status and Its Effects on Subjective Group Identification (with A. Zabirova, R. Musina, G. Makarova, G. Gabdrakhmanova)

3. Margarita Safronova, Dept of Political Science, UCSB

Does the new Post-Soviet generation have a new Post-Soviet culture? Cultural choices and political attitudes of university students in Kazakhstan

4. Juan Campo, Dept of Religious Studies, UCSB

Hajj Rituals and Gender: The Biopolitics of Wahhabism

LUNCH 12:30-2:00

Panel 2. Democracy and the Religious Right: Turkey and Iran (2:00-4:00)

Sherene Seikaly, Dept of History, UCSB – Chair and Discussant

1. Nesrin Unlu, Dept of Religious Studies, UCSB

Conservative Democracy and Its Reception by Religious Groups in Turkey

2. Onur Kapdan, Dept of Sociology, UCSB

The Old Lingers On: The Reproduction of Unitary Hegemonic Citizenship in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party

3. Navid Yousefian, Dept of Political Science, UCSB

A Meeting in Iran: Islamic Reformation and Postcolonial Critique


Friday February 26, 2016

Achaemenid Mixed Marriages and Other Relationships: Perspectives from the Western Frontiers

John W.I. Lee (UC Santa Barbara)

This paper examines marriages and other relationships between Persians/Iranians and non-Persians/Iranians in the western regions of the Achaemenid Empire, with examples drawn from Lydia, Ionia, and Egypt.  I discuss how Greek authors including Herodotus, Xenophon, and Ctesias portray such marriages and relationships, examine Greek concepts of ethnic mixing, intermarriage and “concubinage,” and present possible archaeological evidence for people of mixed Persian/Iranian and non-Persian/Iranian ancestry in Anatolia.

“For the increase of the house:” Ancient Iranian Marriage and the Family in the Achaemenid period.  

Jenny Rose (Claremont Graduate University

Usually scholars rely heavily on Greek writings for information concerning Ancient Persian religious belief and social practice, including marriage. This illustrated presentation expands this perspective, introducing some of the primary sources current in the Achaemenid period, which concern the function of marriage and family within the Ancient Iranian social structure. Such relevant internal material includes parts of the Avesta (the earliest texts of the Zoroastrian religion); Old Persian inscriptions and iconography; the Elamite ‘foundation tablets’ from Persepolis; and an Akkadian and Aramaic archive from Nippur.

These sources will be explored in terms of both their development of the construct of the Iranian ‘upright man,’ as representative of the immediate family and wider community or ‘clan,’ and also of their depiction of the role and representation of women, particularly noblewomen. Materials relating to female and child workers on imperial estates will also be discussed.

The Bible and Jewish Marriages in the Achaemenid Period

Tamara Cohn Eskenazi (Hebrew Union College) and Jacob L. Wright (Emory University)

Discussions of Jewish marriages in the Achaemenid period depend on three major sources: The Bible, the Elephantine Papyri, and the Babylonian tablets. Since the latter source is discussed separately in the Conference, this paper focuses on the first two. Marriage stands out as a prominent subject in a number of biblical texts from Achaemenid Period, such as Ezra-Nehemiah, Ruth, and Proverbs. As literary artifacts, their historical value lies in the ideas – or ideals – about marriage that these writings present, rather than as evidence for actual practices. Conversely, the Elephantine Papyri, which include actual marriage contracts, serve as windows to actual practices in a small Jewish community in Egypt. This paper will review the available information garnered from both types of sources. It will then assess, critically, what they contribute jointly to understanding marriage practices in Judah and explore cross-cultural influences under Achaemenid rule.

Why did Babylonian elite marriage lose its exclusivity under Persian imperial rule?  

Caroline Waerzeggers (University of Leiden)

At the time of Cyrus’s conquest (539 BCE), there was a clear difference between elite and non-elite marriage in Babylonian society. This distinction was based on different patterns of normative behaviour (before and during marriage) and it was maintained by the practice of social endogamy. By the fifth century, this difference had become obsolete, in the sense that all recorded marriages now follow the elite model, regardless of the partners’ social backgrounds. I will argue that we need to understand this development in the context of wider changes in Babylonian society, and I will look for causes at the conjuncture of slow internal developments and the effects of punctual interference by “the Empire.”

Queens, Mothers and Wives: The Noble Ladies of the Early Sasanian Empire

Touraj Daryaee (UC Irvine)

This paper examines the lives of two noble ladies, Queen Denag and Queen Shapurdokhtag in the third century. It is clear that in the third century CE, royal women are portrayed in many rock reliefs and on coins, which suggests that they were not only present, but also a powerful means of legitimacy for princes competing for power. Their portrayal in the eye of the nobility and that of the population of Iranshahr (Realm of the Iranians) was a means by which the men could establish their power. Starting with Queen Denag who is first named in the rock relief to Shapur I, to her portrayal on a seal and a possible rock relief, one is introduced to the importance of women for the Sasanian world. Shapurdokhtag (the daughter of Shapur I), then becomes much better known, because she is portrayed on the Sasanian silver coinage, beside the many rock reliefs. She will be only one of three women in Sasanian history whose image is struck on coins. The reason for presence on coins will be discussed and associated with the idea of legitimacy in the Sasanian world.

“Who would be mine for the day!’” Temporary Marriage and its Possible Legal and Cultural Roots

Haleh Emrani, UC Irvine

The practice of temporary marriage is a topic of discussion and division among the scholars of ancient Iran and Islam. What is the purpose of the institution, why did it develop and how? What are its historical roots? Why it is legally recognized only in contemporary Iran and under Twelver-Shi’i jurisprudence, while prohibited by all four Sunni schools of law? This paper aims to present some evidence to suggest temporary marriage served a very specific purpose and was practiced in the late antique Zoroastrian legal framework and survived into the early Islamic period, by not only the Zoroastrians, but also Shi’ite Muslims.

Jewish Marriage Practices in Sasanian Babylonia

Dvora Weisberg, (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion)

This paper explores Jewish marriage practices in Sasanian Babylonia. It considers the sources that shed light on these practices and the possible influence non-Jewish practices may have had in shaping Jewish practices and attitudes toward marriage.

The primary source for Jewish practice in this period is the Babylonian Talmud (Bavli). The Bavli transmits the opinions and rulings of Palestinian and Babylonian rabbis from the first through the fifth century CE; it is believed to have been edited by Babylonian rabbis in the fifth through seventh centuries. Although the Bavli contains extensive discussions about marriage (including the ideal age for marrying, desirable qualities of a spouse, betrothal, dowry, the marriage ceremony, the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives, and divorce), they cannot be read as an indication of the views of the entire Jewish community in Sasanian Babylonia. Rabbinic rulings are prescriptive rather than descriptive; they represent the view of a rabbinic elite striving to establish itself as the authoritative voice of Judaism. At the same time, we have very little information about the Jews of Sasanian Babylonia apart from the Bavli. That being the case, this paper will draw on the opinions and debates recorded in the Bavli, as well as cases presented in the Bavli as actual incidents or court cases involving marriage, to draw a picture of Jewish marriage as constructed by the emerging leadership (or would-be leadership) of the community.

Our information about Jewish marriage practices in Sasanian Babylonia comes from the Bavli, a religious text that does not acknowledge the influence of the surrounding culture on Jewish law and ritual. Nonetheless certain stances suggest that the environment may have influenced trends in Jewish marriage. It is particularly suggestive to note variations between practices ascribed to Palestinian rabbis and Jews and those associated with Babylonian rabbis and their community. Two examples are preferences for monogamy or polygyny and preferences for avoiding or embracing levirate marriage, the union between the widow of a childless man and his brother. Palestinian sources privilege halitzah, the ritual that releases the widow from her obligation to marry her brother-in-law while Babylonian sources privilege levirate union. This distinction, at least in part, appears to reflect an emphasis on monogamy among the Jews of Roman Palestine; greater comfort with polygyny may have allowed the rabbis of Babylonia to promote levirate marriage. In both cases, we can posit a link between the stance of the rabbis of the two communities and marriage and inheritance practices of the surrounding cultures.

Saturday February 27, 2016


The beneficiaries of Soviet state feminism: Tajik women professionals and their short-lived influence: 1953-1982

Zamira Yusufjonova (Department of History, UC Santa Barbara)

Although the Soviet reforms to liberate Muslim women of Tajikistan failed to reach many in distant rural areas, these reforms dramatically transformed the lives of some women who were either born in urban areas or who were able to urbanize. Similar to the state feminism launched in Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern countries, the regime’s emancipatory reforms benefited the few Tajik women who were educated, professional elites who were able to experience the excitement of being pioneers.

Tatar and Kazakh Identity: Nation and State Status and Its Effects on Subjective Group Identification

Cynthia S. Kaplan (Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara, w/A. Zabirova, R. Musina, G. Makarova, G. Gabdrakhmanova)

Tatar and Kazakh identification reflects the changing conditions under which nations and states have developed since the collapse of the USSR.  Both groups were affected by the Soviet experience and to differing degrees also share religious and linguistic attributes – Islam and Kipchak (eastern Turkic) languages.  The paper explores the relationship between the objective attributes and status of individuals and their understanding of what characteristics are necessary to be considered a Tatar, or Kazakh.  Particular attention is paid to the influence of state policies on the nature of ethnic identification and the salience of ethnicity.

The analysis is based on in-depth scripted interviews conducted among ethnic Tatars and focus groups among Tatars and Kazakhs respectively.  Interviews and focus groups were conducted in Tatar, Kazakh, and Russian by native speakers.  Participants reflect different age cohorts, SES, and urban/rural residence.  Each respondent was asked – what is a Tatar, or Kazakh?  This was followed by open-ended discussions of historical events, the role of religion, the importance of language, and inter-ethnic relations and contact with others, primarily ethnic Russians (social distance).  Their answers are coded focusing on subjective importance of language knowledge and use, religious identification and practice, and national culture.

The goal of the paper is to determine the degree to which Tatars and Kazakhs respectively agree upon necessary characteristics for group membership, i.e., the attributes of membership are understood in a similar manner regardless of demographic characteristic, or contact with other ethnic groups, or show group heterogeneity – different understandings of what it means to be a group member.  State policies are understood as a ‘treatment’ affecting the respective identity groups and are an essential part of the identity puzzle.   For example, Russian state policies towards Tatar sovereignty, the Tatar language, and religion affect the subjective understanding of what it means to be a Tatar. Thus, shifting state policies play a major role in group self -understanding.  The paper compares how the two ethnic groups’ identities reflect the respective state policies.

Does the new Post-Soviet generation have a new Post-Soviet culture? Cultural choices and political attitudes of university students in Kazakhstan

Margarita Safronova (Department of Political Science UC Santa Barbara)

This paper examines the role culture plays in political attitude among the new population of university students in Kazakhstan. Culture is measured based on three dimensions, first, how a young person receives information, second student’s religious practices, and third student’s perception of the group’s experience during the Soviet era. Political attitudes are measured based on student’s perception and expectation of political involvement among members of ethnically diverse society. The paper draws on theories of ethnic identity, social distance, and acculturation.  The study draws on qualitative and quantitative evidence gathered in Astana and Almaty during the spring of 2015. The findings suggest that the role of family values and traditions is prominent across the titular and ethnic minority groups. Society continues to be polarized along ethnic lines; however, a new generation is slowly moving towards a more integrated society. These young people are moving away from the news consumption trends of their parents and seek information beyond news reported on TV.  Furthermore, there are signs of students from ethnic minority groups prioritizing social and political integration rather than assimilation or separation. The study contributes to the discussion of cultural change among ethnic groups in the new Post-Soviet states.

The Hajj and Gender: The Biopolitics of Wahhabism

Juan E. Campo (Department of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara)

For centuries the Hajj has provided Muslim women with opportunities to exercise agency in the life of the community.  Travel to Mecca and Medina provided them with a means of engaging with the world and with others beyond the bounds of domestic life.  The Hajj created a space for engaging in public performances of formal rites, moving devotional practices, and even carnivalesque celebrations.  It was also a field within which women were recognized as patrons and authorities in the areas of hadith transmission and Qur’an interpretation.  This paper situates these practices, which involve gendered corporality, in a historical framework so as to demonstrate how the imposition of Wahhabi hegemony over the Hajj in the 20th century has resulted in an unprecedented regulation of the female body.  It will argue that the Saudi state has mobilized its tremendous wealth and power to establish a modern technological and regulatory hegemony that enforces patriarchal Wahhabi norms of gender segregation and female subjugation.  Because the Hajj is a global phenomenon, the consequences of this expression of techno-Wahhabism reach well beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia.  The paper will also compare the formation of the biopolitics of the Saudi Hajj with that of other globalized mass pilgrimages.

Conservative Democracy and Its Reception by Religious Groups in Turkey

Nesrin Unlu (Department of Religious Studies, UC Santa Barbara)

In order to shed light on the electoral success of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), this paper examines the reception of the party ideology by pious groups of Sunnis who are the backbone of the JDP constituency. In doing so, the paper closely looks at three major brotherhoods (namely İsmail Ağa, İskender Paşa, Erenköy) and divinity school graduates who do not have brotherhood affiliation. Along the lines of Şerif Mardin’s oft-quoted center-periphery thesis, the paper argues that the JDP keeps its electoral hold on these groups as long as these groups are convinced of the JDP’s effectiveness against Kemalist threats to religious liberties as well as foreign threats to the country’s unity. Yet, while the JDP continues to strengthen its position in the center of political structure of the state, it loses its grip in the center of political thoughts that initially appealed larger devout and conservative masses. The Gulen Movement, Mazlumder foundation and the anti-capitalist Muslims movement are examined to illustrate pious oppositions to the JDP policies.

The Old Lingers On: The Reproduction of Unitary Hegemonic Citizenship in Turkey under the Justice and Development Party and Its Contestation

Onur Kapdan (PhD. Candidate, Department of Sociology, UC Santa Barbara)

When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, it challenged the ethnocentric and radically secular Kemalist discourse and practice on citizenship. The Party sought to include those, who shared a common history of exclusion by the Kemalist regime. This was first formulated in the Party’s conservative democracy, and later by references to the Ottoman Empire as an ineradicable civilization to support its Neo-Ottomanist foreign policy.

In this paper, I first contextualize and historicize the AKP’s challenge to the Kemalist regime. I argue it emerges (a) as an extension of Turkish neoliberal tradition embodied in the Motherland Party of the 1980s, (b) inside the normative framework constructed by Turkey’s accelerating negotiations with the European Union, and (c) as part of the post-9/11 global conjuncture shaped by the neo-conservatist search for moderate Islam. The AKP’s inclusive interpretation of Turkish citizenship was then limited by this context and history. I contend that both conservative democracy and Neo-Ottomanist civilization discourse suggest only a relative opening: they remain partially dependent on their history and global context, both place the state apparatus into its center, and (c) conserve the top-down tradition of the Kemalist regime. The new citizenship consists in only a broadened Muslim and/or imperial subject, which continues to deny room to non-conforming subjectivities.

I conclude by analyzing the AKP’s response to the contestation by these subjects, namely the Kurds, the women, the youth, and the Alevis, which culminated in the Gezi Uprising and the formation of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Responding to these challenges, and to the global crisis of 2008, the AKP has increasingly relied on the state apparatus, and recycled its nationalism and violence especially following the HDP’s success in June 2015 elections. The present moment reveals the old exclusionary and unitary regime lingers on in Turkey.

A Meeting in Iran: Islamic Reformation and Postcolonial Critique

Navid Yousefian (Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara)

The Islamic Reformation project, based on a hermeneutical approach that seeks to historicize and modernize religion, has been politically accused for cavorting with one of the most ambitious imperial projects in history. This paper, through an engagement with the works of Islamic reformists and postcolonial theorists, tends to contextualize the intellectual debates about religion and politics in post-Revolutionary Iran. I will argue that Iranian politics is more an instrument and an effect of expediency and power relations, rather than one based on a traditional notion of Islamism. Contrary to the European experience, in the Muslim world, secularization has preceded religious reformation. Nevertheless, the Islamic Reformation project, by reification, authorization, and centralization of certain interpretations of religion, invites the merely political disputes to be founded on religious and theological disagreements; resulting in undesirably undemocratic consequences. On the other hand, the postcolonial conception of religion is established on the binaries of traditionalism versus secularism, piety versus modernity, and Islam versus liberalism that uphold and sustain the Otherness construction process, feeding a ‘Clash of Civilization’ discourse. By a discussion of the dominating literature of West-toxication in the Iranian politics, it will be argued that the postcolonial alternative, masks the global conflicts between Iran and the West under an ideological cover, rendering the antagonism to be existential, rather than political. The “counter-Enlightenment” and “counter-Reformation” nature of postcolonialists’ works essentializes the differences and hinders a global understanding of legitimate localities, favoring the destructive dichotomy of Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.

Page Editor

Ben Smith
Ben Smith
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Print Friendly and PDF