Persian at the University of Toronto
Flourishing in South Asia from the 12th through the 19th centuries, Persian, both in its literary and in its spoken forms, has been the language to most successfully bridge the many class, regional, and religious differences in what are now Afghanistan, Bangladesh, parts of Burma, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka before the advent of English. Established as a courtly, literary, scientific, and administrative language by the Mughals, ensuring social mobility for many, also non-Muslim groups in South Asian society, it spread far beyond the already vast reach of the Mughal empire, connected South Asia with Western and Central Asia. Its historical importance for religion and literature lies in the creation of the rich Persianate culture that characterizes large parts of South Asia until today, and the integration of Islam into the South Asian religious world. Being the medium of important South Asian religious traditions such as Sufism, it has enabled a long and intense intellectual and literary interaction between Muslims, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs through exchange, debate, and translation.
Research on Avestan and Middle Persian texts, relevant to the Zoroastrians of South Asia, at UofT is conducted by Enrico Raffaelli. The relations between Persian-Sanskrit in South Asia are studied by Ajay Rao. Karen Ruffle engages with sources in Persian in her work on Shi’i ritual, material culture, and gender, and Shafique Virani works on the Persian-language historiography of the Ismailis.
At UofT, Persian is regularly taught at all levels (introductory, intermediate, advanced) at the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations on the St. George camp, which offers also courses in Avestan and Middle Persian, and at the Department of Language Studies at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Shafique Virani also teaches advanced students at the undergraduate level (through the course “Search and Research: A Journey in Muslim Civilizations”) and graduate students (through directed readings courses) who would like to deepen existing native or semi-native linguistic skills through studies of literature and manuscript traditions in Persian.