Special issue of Iranian Studies 48.1 (2015) on "Religious Trends in Late Ancient & Early Islamic Iran" http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cist20/48/1#/toc/cist20/48/1
This special edition of the Journal contains five studies on religious culture in ancient Iran from the Seleucid to early Islamic eras. The articles collectively deal with the complex ties between the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism and other major religious trends of the period, including Judaism, Christianity, Mazdakism, and Islam. Each article in this volume compares the diverse sets of literature produced by the different religious groups in this time period, such as the Babylonian Talmud of the Rabbis of Babylonia, numerous Syriac Christian sources, Middle Persian Zoroastrian legal and theological texts, and Arabic historiographies, among other literary sources. In addition, this volume also pays particular attention to the role that Iranian royal culture and institutions, attested by archaeological evidence, play in the formation of religious culture in ancient Iran. Interestingly, the articles in this volume emphasize the transition periods at both the beginning and end of the Sasanian Empire (224–651 CE), thereby tracing the effects of political and social ruptures, especially the Islamic conquests in the seventh century, on the religious life of diverse communities in Iran.
Among the topics that the articles in this volume treat are Zoroastrian Pahlavi polemics against Jews, Christians, and Muslims; the evolution of Iranian sacred architecture and its relation to Zoroastrian religious culture; the judicial ties between Zoroastrian and Christian law in early Islamic Persia; and, lastly, the role and representation of Mazdakism in the sixth century vis-à-vis the supposed development of orthodoxy in Zoroastrianism.
Before summarizing each of these five articles in more detail, we would first like to offer for the readers of the Journal some necessary background information regarding religious culture in Iran in the period under discussion.
In the late antique and early Islamic eras, the Iranian world was home to a wide array of religious communities and ethnicities, including Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Gnostics, Mazdakites, Buddhists, Popular Magicians, and Muslims, among numerous others. Historians of ancient Iran generally agree that many of these religious groups were in contact with one another in various realms of society, such as legal, scholastic, or economic. Yet, despite the fact that religious groups in Iran often interacted with one another in meaningful ways, scholars in many of the relevant academic disciplines still have much to accomplish by way of comparing the religions of ancient Iran in historical context. Moreover, there still exists a wide gap in methodological orientations—ranging from philology to comparative literature to archaeology—which inhibits the flow of information from one discipline to the next, to the detriment of all invested in the study of ancient Iran. Regrettably, for the past several decades scholars working in one discipline of study have not fully engaged in academic dialogue with scholars in other related ones: that is, scholars of Zoroastrianism, Talmudic Judaism, Syriac Christianity, and early Islam tend to be separated by linguistic and disciplinary divides, when in reality they depend on one another to succeed. Fortunately, this situation is improving with the help of Talmudists such as Yaakov Elman and Richard Kalmin, among others, now comparing the Talmud with Syriac and Zoroastrian literatures to great effect. In sum, the study of religious culture in ancient Iran benefits from using comparative methods which draw from two or more academic disciplines in order to examine the interactions between different religions. Indeed, this volume was conceived with this purpose in mind.