MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award

The Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award was established in 2005 to recognize outstanding publishing in Iranian studies. The award was named for Houshang Pourshariati to recognize his long and distinguished career as a journalist and writer.

2018 Nomination Guidelines

This award is a bienniel award.

Deadline April 1, 2018

The Middle East Studies Association invites nominations for the 2018 Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award. Nominations can be made by either the publisher or the author. Although there is no limit to the number of titles that authors or publishers may submit, we ask that they exercise discretion in the selection of books nominated. Below is a list of criteria that should be met:

  1. Nominations for the Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award can be made by either the publisher or the author.
  2. Books must be non-fiction scholarly monographs based on original research published in English* between April 1, 2016, and March 31, 2018. Authors need not be members of MESA. *Works translated from other languages into English will also be considered, but will be judged by the same rigorous standards as those for works originally in English.
  3. Subject matter must deal with Iran and the work must seek to advance knowledge and scholarship on Iranian society, culture, and history from ancient times to the present and as addressed by the fields of literature, philosophy, social studies, art, science, and other disciplines. The purview of these works should be clearly that of an Iranist. The works considered should demonstrate substantive understanding of the social and political experiences of the Iranian people and their civilization and their contribution to and influences on the world at large.
  4. Works not eligible include edited collections and compilations, proceedings of symposia, new editions of previously published books, bibliographies, dictionaries, and textbooks.

The author of the winning book will receive $2000 and a certificate of award. Honorable mentions also receive a certificate of award. Winners will be announced at the Awards Ceremony at the 52nd MESA Annual Meeting in San Antonio, TX held November 15-18, 2018. As well, the results will be posted on MESA’s website and in Issues in Middle East Studies, the Association’s newsletter.


To nominate a book

1. Submit a letter of nomination (by April 1) and send one copy of the book (by April 10) to the Awards Coordinator at the MESA Secretariat. In the letter, for each book nominated, please include the full title, author’s full name, publisher, and publication date.

Sara L. Palmer, Book Awards Coordinator
2018 Houshang Pourshariati Book Award Competition
Middle East Studies Association
3542 N Geronimo Ave
Tucson, Arizona 85705

520-333-2577 x 103 (phone)
520-207-3166 (fax)

2. Send one copy of the book to each of the following readers on the Committee. Books must reach the readers by April 10, 2018.

Carl W. Ernst
1906 Clearwater Lake Road
Chapel Hill NC 27517
(for courier: 919-929-4594)

Elena Andreeva
Department of History
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington VA 24450
(for courier: 540-464-7085)

Mojtaba Mahdavi
Department of Political Science, 10-25 Tory Building 
University of Alberta
Edmonton AB T6G 2H4
(for courier: 780-492-0736) 


2016 Award Recipients

The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood Among Young Afghans in Iran
Zuzanna Olszewska,
Published by Indiana University Press, 2015

Honorable Mention
A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity
Richard Payne
Published by University of California Press, 2015

Honorable Mention
Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture
Farzin Vejdani
Published by Stanford University Press, 2015

The first honorable mention goes to Richard Payne, author of A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity, published in 2015 by University of California Press.  Through detailed parsing of archaeological, sillographic, and textual material from Syriac and Middle Persian sources, Payne provides a novel account of the incorporation of Christian elites into the political networks of the Sassanian empire.  In doing so, Payne overturns previous assessments that represented hagiographies of Christian saints and martyrs in Iran at face value.  By analyzing religious texts in the context of their corresponding social institutions, such as annual shrine commemorations or court deliberations, Payne shows how, by the reign of Khosrow the second, the Iranian state amalgamated Christian elites and religious institutions with an imperial ambition to “incorporate the Christian Roman Empire into an enlarged Eranshahr.”  Correspondingly, he argues, the political culture of the Zoroastrian nobility facilitated the development of “shared social and political imaginaries” which facilitated the assimilation of Syrian Christian legal traditions and communal self-understandings into a late Sassanian imperial order.   In effect, Payne argues, Eastern Syrian Christians were “as much the heirs of Iran as were their Zoroastrian peers.”  As a result, the committee determined that Payne’s monograph substantially contributes to our understanding of the Iranian imperial zone in late antiquity, informing and inspiring work for the next generation of historians.
The second honorable mention goes to Farzin Vejdani, author of Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture, published in 2015 by Stanford University Press.  As implied by the double sense of the book’s title, Vejdani examines the actors and institutions which took part in the development of Iranian historiography during the transformation from an empire towards a nation-state.  Pushing against previous scholarship which identified the driving force of nationalism as either externally sparked through Western emulation or internally coerced through top-down state compulsion, Vejdani expands the set of individuals which shaped and participated in Iranian history-making from the late Qajar period through the constitutional and early Pahlavi eras.  Through a sweeping look at previously unused sources, including works by court amateurs, private educators, women writers, and provincial elites, Vejdani highlights the distinctive processes of history-making in Iran as compared to more widely studied examples from colonial India or Kemalist Turkey.  The study grounds the formation of Iranian nationalism within transnational social and intellectual currents as well as new print technologies and pedagogical practices.  The committee determined that Vejdani’s work, by greatly enriching the field of social history of modern Iran, will serve as a model for future scholarship inside and outside the field of Iranian Studies.
Lastly, the committee is pleased to award the 2016 Houshang Pourshariati Iranian Studies Book Award to Zuzanna Olszewska, author of The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood Among Young Afghans in Iran, published in 2015 by Indiana University Press.  Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork and life history interviews among Afghan-Iranian communities in Mashhad, The Pearl of Dari details how the tradition of Persian poetry provides a cultural space in which Afghans wrestled with tensions of communal distinction, individual self-expression, class divisions, cross-border migration, and social assimilation in Iran.  Olszewska’s monographbreaks major ground in multiple arenas of Iranian studies.  To name just a few; the book provides new insights into state-society relations before and after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the history of literary production, the lifeworlds of cultural institutions, the development of Iranian identities, changes in gender dynamics, the social trajectories of minority communities, and the shifting boundaries of inclusion and exclusion in the contemporary Islamic Republic.  Where previous ethnographies tended to focus narrowly on upper-middle classes in urban Iran with an unquestioning and universalizing lens, Olszewska looks to the margins and the periphery to better understand both the center and the whole of the country.  Infused with anthropological imagination, written in clear prose, and crackling with the poetic voices of her interlocutors, The Pearl of Dari will bring new readers into Iranian Studies while expanding the purview of the field itself.


Previous Recipients

2016 Award Recipients

Zuzanna Olszewska,
The Pearl of Dari: Poetry and Personhood Among Young Afghans in Iran
Indiana University Press, 2015

Honorable Mentions

Richard Payne
A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity

University of California Press, 2015

Farzin Vejdani
Making History in Iran: Education, Nationalism, and Print Culture

Stanford University Press, 2015

2014 Award Recipients

Rudi Matthee, University of Delaware
Willem Floor, Independent Scholar, Washington, DC
Patrick Clawson, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
The Monetary History of Iran: From the Safavids to the Qajars
Published by I.B. Tauris, 2013

2013 Award Recipient

Patricia Crone, School of Historical Studies, Princeton
Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran: Rural Revolt and Local Zoroastrianism
(Cambridge University Press, 2012)

2012 Award Recipient

Hamid Naficy, Northwestern University
A Social History of Iranian Cinema
(Duke University Press, 2011)

2011 Award Recipient

Sebouh Aslanian, University of California, Los Angeles
From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa (University of California Press, 2011)

2010 Award Recipient

Arash Khazeni, Pomona College
Tribes and Empire on the Margins of Nineteenth-Century Iran 
(University of Washington Press, 2010)

Honorable Mentions

Richard W. Bulliet, Columbia University
Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran 
(Columbia University Press, 2009)

Colin P. Mitchell, Dalhousie University
 The Practice of Politics in Safavid Iran: Power, Religion and Rhetoric 
(I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2009)

2009 Award Recipient

Sussan Babaie, Fulbright Regional Scholar, Egypt and Syria, 
Isfahan and Its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi'ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran
(Edinburgh University Press)

2008 Award Recipients

Maria E. Subtelny, University of Toronto
Timurids in Transition: Turko-Persian Politics and Acculturation in Medieval Iran (Brill Publishers)

Honorable Mention

Shafique N. Virani, University of Toronto
The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation(Oxford University Press)

2007 Award Recipients

Beatrice F. Manz, Tufts University
Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran 
(Cambridge University Press)

Honorable Mention

Vanessa Martin, University of London
The Qajar Pact: Bargaining, Protest and the State in 19th Century Persia 
(I.B. Tauris)

Biographical Sketch of Houshang Pourshariati (1934–2004)

Houshang Pourshariati (1934–2004) was a journalist, public intellectual and humanist who devoted his life to the advancement and welfare of his country in the course of his distinguished career in the Iranian Press and Media. Pourshariati commenced his career as a journalist when the Iranian Press was entering its professional phase in the middle of the 20th century. He was amongst a select group of highly dedicated, erudite and intellectually committed individuals who, through their untiring contributions, –at times against severe odds and with little means– laid the foundations of modern, professional journalism in Iran. With his education, keen intelligence, and tremendous organizational skills he soon rose to prominence and played a leading part in two of the most important dailies of his time, Ettela’at and Ayendegan, in the latter one of which he functioned as a founding member. A natural communicator, with a great gift for friendship and camaraderie, he played a crucial part as a founding member of the first free union, the “Writers’ and Journalists’ Syndicate” of Iran in the early 1960s.

The establishment of the “Writers’ and Journalists’ Syndicate” in this turbulent period of Iranian history was a milestone in the history of the Iranian Press and provided the ideological and institutional means for the subsequent crucial role that the Iranian press performed in the revolution of 1978-79. Pourshariati eventually became the Director of Pars News Agency, the Iranian national news agency, a position he held during the revolutionary upheavals. As one of the renowned journalists of his time and in the course of his career of about half a century he witnessed, firsthand, some of the most crucial episodes of Iranian history unfold. Houshang Pourshariati’s career, and his profound interest in Iran’s cultural progress also brought him into intimate contact with some of the most renowned Iranian academics and literati of the past half century. It is in commemoration of what he stood for as a humanist and universalist with a particular affection for his own cultural legacies, and a public intellectual of great integrity who devoted his life to Iran’s cultural progress, that this award in Iranian Studies is set up in his memory. It is hoped that the Houshang Pourshariati Book Award in Iranian Studies will contribute to the advancement of the field and further promote cross-cultural understanding.

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