Student Group Puts Iranian Studies in the Spotlight

by Rashad Mulla

Student Group Puts Iranian Studies in the Spotlight
Attendees listen intently as Dr. Christopher Thornton, National Geographic archaeologist, presents his research.

Iran has been a solid presence in mainstream media for decades. Now, George Mason University students can learn more about the nation's rich history, culture and current affairs thanks to an academic student group with a singular goal of educating the local community on Iran.

The Iranian Studies Group returns to Mason for its second official semester as a student organization with a series of lectures and presentations focused on Iran-related research in the humanities and social sciences. The semester gets off to a quick start on Sept. 19, with a presentation of original research by the group’s treasurer, sociology PhD student Sahar Haghighat. She will discuss Mason students’ responses to Iran's June 2009 protests. The meeting takes place at 7:30 p.m. in the Johnson Center's third floor meeting room A.

It’s the sort of current research discussion that group president Masood Mortazavi sought when he formed the group last fall.

Mortazavi, a psychology master’s student in the human factors and applied cognition program, is Iranian-American and has been involved with several Iranian student organizations both on and off campus. Using his experience, he created a research-focused group under the academic student organization umbrella. The Iranian Studies Group, in its beginning stages, brings that vision to life.

“I wanted to create a group that focused on Iran and its people, and I looked around and found people with similar interests,” he said. “We are interested in having lectures, discussions, focus groups and surveys. This is a research-focused group, open to all students, regardless of major.”

Darius Salimi was one of the first students recruited to the cause. Salimi, an anthropology master's student, first interviewed Mortazavi for a class-related research project, then gradually became more involved in the inner workings of the group. Now, he serves as the group's vice president, regularly promoting group events through e-mail and Facebook.

“I've always had an interest in ancient history, and specifically, the ancient history, culture and language of Iran,” Salimi said. “Promoting the study of all aspects of what many people might not realize was and is a vastly important Iranian culture and history feels like somewhat of a duty to me.”

The group started fulfilling this duty fervently last spring, hosting multiple brown bag lectures throughout the semester. On April 21, 2011, they hosted Dr. Christopher Thornton, an archaeologist from National Geographic who worked in ancient sites in Iran. This semester, the group has scheduled Dr. Touraj Daryaee, a world-renowned scholar on Iran, to speak on Thursday, Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Dewberry Hall North. Daryaee is the Howard C. Baskerville Professor in the History of Iran and the Persianate World and the associate director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine.

In a sign of how far the group has come in its second semester, the Daryaee event is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Department of History and Art History. Two more brown bag lectures are also scheduled, one each for October and November, with Mortazavi scheduled to present on one of his research interests in the latter event.

It's a quick start for a group that spent last semester learning the ropes.

“This year, you can expect a lot more activity as we are now able to focus on more unique and larger events and collaborations with other Iranian-American and Iranian studies groups to promote and cross-promote events and initiatives,” Salimi said. “We're really trying to step up our outreach and tap into a larger base of students and faculty that may not necessarily be exclusively 'Iranian studies' people.”

To keep up with the group's updates and events, e-mail or join the Facebook group, Iranian Studies Group @ GMU.