Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2019

Ahoo Najafian

Carleton College


“It was Tomorrow:” On Postmodern Ghazal

Ghazal has been one of the most (if not the most) popular poetic genres throughout the centuries in the Persianate sphere, a reason of which might be found in its structural and thematic characteristics, where “universal” themes, religious or secular, are subtly blended and expressed succinctly in no more than eight lines. With its universal themes, alleged fixed format, and stock imageries and metaphors ghazal is a seeming constant in the altering contexts in which it is being (re)produced. In this paper, I study “postmodern ghazal” (نردم-تسپ لزغ), a literary trend that started as experimentation with indigenizing Postmodernism in early 2000s in Iran and is gradually gaining currency as a respected poetic genre today. I juxtapose this sub-genre with “classical ghazal” to explore the socio-literary trajectories of this poetic form and raise questions about genre and time, form and content, and religion and literature.


Ahoo Najafian is the Ira T. Wender Postdoctoral Scholar in Middle East Studies and Religion at Carleton College. She is interested in how cultures understand and reproduce themselves across time. Her research explores the relationship between the different notions of literature and religion with a focus on Persianate literature and Islamicate cultures. She is also interested in  contemporary art of the Middle East and has worked with Iranian artists on collaborative projects. Her current project, Poetic Nation, explores the intersections of religion, poetry, and politics in twentieth-century Iran through the category of mysticism (ʿerfan) and follows a range of nation-building enterprises, from Islamism to Communism, materialized in the ways in which the fourteenth-century poet Hafez and his poetry are understood. She teaches courses on gender, literature, arts, and nation building in the Middle East.

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