Shahzad Bashir to deliver Presidential Faculty Award Lecture at Brown

Bashir, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Brown, will discuss the cultural pervasiveness of poetry in Iran, Central Asia and South Asia.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Shahzad Bashir, a professor of Islamic studies and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Brown University, will deliver a Presidential Faculty Award lecture at the University on Monday, Feb. 24. His presentation, titled “Dwelling in a World of Poetry,” will delve into the key role that poetry has played for centuries in Iran, Central Asia and South Asia.

Bashir, who studies the intellectual and social histories of these regions from the 14th century to the present, said he has long been interested in the pervasiveness of poetry in all sectors of society in regions that are now part of Iran, Uzbekistan and India. Bashir has found that poetry pervades a diverse array of medieval and early modern text from these regions, including in medical books, literature and even a work on mining.

“Poetry is a kind of currency in these areas,” Bashir said. “It becomes the marker of expressing or explaining things and imbuing them with a kind of moral or aesthetic value. Poetry allows very complex communication in very brief forms, so the poetry present in books gives us insights on relationships, hierarchy and religious beliefs in these societies.”

Bashir said that Persian-speaking countries in particular boast a large collection of historical poetry that is so universally known that citizens often recite lines from the poems in casual conversations. He said Shakespearean phrases might be the English-speaking world’s only equivalent.

“If you’re in Iran, you might ask how someone is feeling, and they’ll respond by citing half a verse of poetry,” Bashir said. “On the surface, it might seem to have nothing to do with the question, but the person on the receiving end can easily discern what it means.”

The professor hopes that those who attend his lecture walk away simultaneously celebrating cultural differences and recognizing universal underpinnings in the poetry he shares.

“Our expressions take different forms depending on where we live, and those differences are wonderful to behold,” Bashir said. “But underlying those different forms are fundamental human concerns that are actually quite similar across the world: love, loyalty, a sense of belonging.”

The Presidential Faculty Award Lecture takes place on Monday, Feb. 24, at 4:30 p.m. in the John Carter Brown Library. The event is free and open to the public.

About the Series

The Presidential Faculty Award was established in 2013 by Brown University President Christina H. Paxson to recognize members of the Brown faculty who are conducting especially important and innovative scholarship and to create an opportunity for recipients to present their work to colleagues in other disciplines. Two recipients are selected for the academic year, one for each semester. Previous recipients include C.D. Wright, Charles Larmore, David Berson, Nitsan Chorev, David Kertzer, Jill Pipher, Jesse Shapiro, Bonnie Honig, Anthony Bogues, Amanda Lynch and Michael Littman.