Orality and Textuality in Zoroastrianism

Recorded April 26, 2023.

Orality and Textuality in Zoroastrianism

How should we conceive of Prophet Zoroaster? What was the context in which he lived and composed the Gathas of Zoroaster? Do they provide a unique window into oral composition and transmission of tradition(s)? Can the early poetry attributed to Zoroaster teach us something about the cryptic techniques of Indo-European poetry and the beginnings of Greek philosophy? How did orality sustain the Zoroastrian community through millennia?

Almut Hintze, SOAS/London
Martin Schwartz, University of California/Berkeley
Peter Jackson Rova, Stockholm University

About the panelists:

Professor Almut Hintze will present on ‘Tradition and Performance in Zoroastrian Ritual’.

She is the Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism at SOAS, University of London, and Fellow of the British Academy. She specialises in Zoroastrianism and the tradition of its sacred texts, of which she has published several editions. She directed a collaborative project on the Multimedia Yasna, funded by European Research Council with an Advanced Investigator Grant (2016–2023), to produce an interactive film of a complete performance of the Yasna ritual, electronic tools for editing Avestan texts, and a text-critical edition, translation, commentary and dictionary of the Avestan Yasna. She has just been awarded her second Advanced Investigator Grant (2023–2028) by the European Research Council to investigate the ritual tradition of the Avesta in India.  The project team will film the performance of a full Visperad ceremony, provide a critical edition of the Sanskrit translation of the Yasna, and study the interpretation of Avestan rituals in Gujarati language sources.

Professor Martin Schwartz will present on “The Gathas and Orality: Mystagogy and Memory”. 

He is Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies in the Department of Middle East Languages and Cultures at the University of California at Berkeley. His chief teaching and research activity is in Pre-Islamic Iranian/Central Asiatic languages, literatures, and religions. To this he brings a knowledge of Indo-Iranian (including Vedic) and Indo-European historical linguistics and languages of the Near East. His focal interest on the poetic, intellectual and spiritual world of the Gathas of Zoroaster, whose esoteric dimension and complex compositional structures he has discovered has brought a new methodology to the study of the Gathas of the Avesta.  His recent lectures include invited presentations at the Collège de France, University of Bonn, Arya University in Yerevan, three lectures at the University of La Sapienza, Rome, at the University of Macerata in Italy, University of Salamanca in Spain, at Turfanforschung, Akademie der Wissenschafter, Berlin and at finally at the Inst. für Iranistik, in Vienna, as well as the Indogermanisches Seminar, Vienna; and at the University of Trnava, Slovakia. Martin Schwartz gained his PhD under W.B. Henning at UC Berkeley. 

Professor Peter Jackson Rovawill present on “Oral Poetics of Ritual Transformation in Ancient Iran (and Beyond)”.

He is a professor of the history of religions at Stockholm University, Sweden. His research focuses on the study of Indo-European religions, with an emphasis on ancient Indian and Iranian religions, the religions of ancient Greece and Rome, and Old Norse religion. By undertaking the comparative task of exploring how recurrences in the earliest cultic and heroic poetry of ancient India, Iran, Greece, and the Germanic world provide clues to the common past of these traditions, he has made an effort to show that there is sufficient cultural data embedded in the hereditary Indo-European poetic vocabulary to invite serious anthropological and historical consideration, thus opening a window to a critical phase in Eurasian prehistory.

Jackson Rova is a member of the interdisciplinary research program LAMP (Languages and Myths of Prehistory) and is currently cooperating with Norbert Oettinger (University of Erlangen, Germany) in preparing a general survey of common linguistic traits in Indo-European religious traditions (preliminary title Kompendium der indogermanischen Religion). His most recent book Devotion and Artifice: Themes of Suspension in the History of Religions is scheduled to appear in De Gruyter’s series Religion and Reason by the end of July 2023.

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