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Ethnographic interest in Iran has a long his­tory. It goes back to the first European travelers in the Middle Ages who took an intelligent inter­est in what they saw, as they moved through ( what were to them ) the culturally strange lands of the East to visit the courts of the potentates of the time. We have progressed a long way since then in the mutual understanding and interpretation of widely differing cultures, and the Middle East and Iran have also changed. But, for a variety of reasons (which are too complex to rehearse here ), professional anthropology has been slow to start in the Iranian cultural area, and the expertise of professional ethnographic description and anthro­pological analysis has scarcely begun to be applied to Iranian culture and society. To some extent this has been true of the Middle East in general, but anthropological interest in Iran is even more recent than interest in the Middle East as a whole. Until very recently, except in the special field of Iranian languages, Iran’ was treated academically as an appendage of the Arab Islamic world. (It is significant that many people outside academe do not realize that the Iranians are Indo-European. They know they are Muslims, and think of the whole Middle East as Semitic. In fact, of course, Iran has a separate cultural tradition, older than that of the Arabs, which though secondary to it in Islam, is an integral component of Islamic cul­ture.) The early references to Iran in works of anthropological orientation on the Middle East are by people who had not specialized in Iranian ethnography (e.g. Elisabeth E. Bacon, Carleton S. Coon, Raphael Patai.

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Date Posted: 18 October 2016

This document has been peer reviewed.