UC Davis Expands Persian Literature, Language Courses

Philanthropist at podium
Bita Daryabari

Persian studies at UC Davis are taking another leap forward with the launch of a new minor, a growing faculty and the creation of an endowed chair in Persian language and literature.

A $1.5 million gift from Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian Bita Daryabari this academic year established the new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature. The UC Office of the President is providing $500,000 in matching funds.

The professor hired to fill that position, as early as fall 2017, will teach Persian literature and third-year Persian language courses.

“Broadening our Persian studies program will allow UC Davis students new opportunities to enrich their multicultural awareness—an essential component of a UC Davis education that is focused on preparing our students to work and live in a modern, multiethnic society,” said Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

Katehi also committed campus funding for a new instructor to teach first- and second-year Persian language courses beginning this fall.

UC Davis is one of only three universities in the world to receive a gift from Daryabari earmarked for Persian studies. In 2008 she created the Bita Daryabari Endowment in Persian Letters at Stanford University. In 2013 she gave a $2 million endowment for the Shahnama Project at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge in England.

“Persia is known for its poets and poetry, and so much more,” Daryabari said. “Similar to what I have done at Stanford and at Cambridge, I wanted to support a program at UC Davis that shows the real role of Iranian studies and Persian literature and poetry and a real appreciation of Iranian culture.”

Suad Joseph, a distinguished professor of anthropology and gender, sexuality and women’s studies who served as founding director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) program until 2009, said growth of Iran and Persian studies reflects a broad commitment from Iranian American alumni and regional community leaders.

Two new faculty joined Iranian studies this year: Talinn Grigor in art history and Shiva Ahmadi in art studio. Professors Jocelyn Sharlet in comparative literature and Ali Anooshahr in history have worked to develop the Iranian studies minor and Persian language and literature. PARSA Visiting Professor Wendy DeSouza regularly teaches courses on Iran in the ME/SA program.

Joseph, whose own research focuses on Arabic studies, said expanding Persian studies strengthens the ME/SA program, which has grown from two faculty, five courses and a few hundred students in 2001 to close to 30 teaching faculty, more than 100 courses and 2,500 enrollments, including instruction in three languages—Arabic and Hindi/Urdu as well as Persian. The classics department also offers courses in Hebrew.

UC Davis is the only campus in the UC system with a major and minor in ME/SA, and only one of four of its kind in the nation, Joseph said. “It’s important for a world-class university like UC Davis to offer to its students instruction in as many languages and cultures of the world as possible,” she said. “We need to be informed. We are a small planet.”

Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science