Persian Studies at the University of Virginia

The University of Virginia can take pride in being one of the few American academic institutions that has offered courses in Persian language and literature for four decades.  In addition to being a long-standing program, the Persian Program at the University of Virginia has been recognized as one of the strongest Persian programs nationwide.  Professor Michael Houdson of Georgetown University reported in his assessment that “Persian Studies…  is an asset to the University, particularly as UVa strives for more ‘international’ capabilities and recognition.

The UVa Persian Program seeks to promote greater awareness and appreciation of the cultural richness of an ancient civilization; at the same time, it seeks to foster a better understanding of contemporary Iran. Our program focuses principally on Iranian studies; however it bears mention that as the official language in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Persian has been designated a “critical language” and has become a crucial area of study for many students seeking degrees in Politics and Foreign Affairs. Persian is also widely spoken in at least thirteen more countries (Uzbekistan, Turkey, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, United States, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Israel, Bahrain, Canada, Russia, and Kuwait). 

Two years of Persian language instruction (Elementary and Intermediate Persian) provide proficiency in areas of comprehension, conversation, reading, and writing.  In the third year of Persian study, students explore the intricacies and complexities of the Persian language through the introduction of original literary works—prose and poetry, classical and modern.  Larger social, political, historical, and cultural aspects of literary production in Persian are emphasized in a variety of literature courses.

The faculty and the course offerings of the Persian Studies program at the University of Virginia bridge multiple disciplines. Our interdisciplinary program offers not only multi-level courses in Persian language and literature, spanning the period from the birth of the language as a literary force to contemporary times, we also offer courses in: classical and contemporary literature in English translation; women’s studies; cinema; and philology.

The Persian program offers two categories of courses: (PERS) classes taught in Persian; (PETR) Persian literature in translation classes. This allows students to both acquire specialized knowledge in the language and to explore varied interests in literary, philosophical, cultural, and historical aspects of Persian literature through the study of translated works.

Persian Placement Test

Placement / Foreign Language Requirement Exemption for Persian

Placement into Perisan language courses at the University of Virginia is done through an online Persian placement exam followed by an interview which evaluates your oral competence.

1. If you have not previously studied Persian, you may enroll directly in PERS 1010: Elementary Persian.

2. If you have studied Persian previously, at home or in a setting other than UVA and don't know exactly which class you should enroll in, you need to take the online Persian placement exam prior to our summer orientation session. Contact the Persian Language Program Coordinator, Mahshad Mohit at to receive instructions on taking it.

3. Students who want to be exempted from the College's Foreign Language Requirement need to take the online Persian placement exam and the following oral interview. The exemption will be determined by the program coordinator.

Who Should Take This Exam

This test is for students who are either heritage learners of Persian (that is, you have experience regularly hearing or using Persian at home) or have previously studied Persian in a formal setting, and who wish to enroll in a Persian language course or to test out of the Persian language program at UVA. 

Your placement will be determined by the results of this exam, and a required subsequent oral interview.

Your Results

After you take the test, the program coordinator will contact you with your score and course placement. If you have not heard from the placement coordinator within 5 business days, please contact Prof. Mahshad Mohit (

Persian Faculty

Raymond J Nelson Professor
Mahshad Mohit

Language Program Coordinator


Course Descriptions

PERS 1010/1020 - Elementary Persian

This course introduces students (both non-heritage and heritage learners) to the Persian language. While developing proficiency in reading, writing, comprehending, and speaking modern Persian through communicative methods, students acquire an understanding of grammar that is well integrated into their language usage.  Dialogs and reading texts are geared toward facilitating practical mastery of basic skills.

Credits: 4

PERS 2010/2020 - Intermediate Persian

Prerequisites: PERS 1020 or equivalent, or instructor permission.

This course is a continuation of Introduction to Persian. After completing this course, students should be able to read authentic texts of various kinds (with the aid of a dictionary).  Although there is emphasis on rapidly improving reading comprehension and the course is much more grammar intensive than Elementary Persian, attaining greater proficiency in speaking, listening comprehension, and writing remains essential to successful completion of the course. Intermediate Persian prepares the student for in-depth textual study and analysis that will occur in the ensuing years of Persian study at UVA.

Credits: 4

PERS 3010/3020 - Advanced Persian

Prerequisites: PERS 2020 or equivalent, or instructor permission.

The goal of this course is to increase student’s efficiency in reading modern texts; ranging from literary prose fiction to news media excerpts, to poetry. although the students will be expected to learn grammatical structures emphasis will be placed on the functional usage of the language and on communication in context.

Credits: 3

PERS 3240 - Introduction to Modern Persian Literature

This course addresses the development of modern(ist) trends in Persian literature, emphasizing historical and socio-political factors. Exemplar modern poems, stories, and essays are read in the original, then explained and critically evaluated. Defines and discusses significant ideas, ideologies, movements, trends, milieus, social backgrounds, etc., out of which modern Persian literature emerged.

Credits: 3

PERS 3559/5559 - New Course in Persian

This course provides the opportunity to offer a new topic in the subject area of Persian.

Credits: 3

PERS 4993/8993 - Independent Study in Persian

Prerequisites: Instructor permission.

Independent study for advanced students of Persian.

Credits: 1-3



Course Descriptions

History of Iranian Literature

This course introduces the many stages of Persian literature historically. History of Iranian Literature is a study in the marriage of thought, milieu, genius, and multi-faceted poetics.

Contemporary Persian Literature in Translation

This course examines the evolution of twentieth-century Persian prose by charting the development of two features that distinguish many modernist works in the Iranian context: 1) recourse to representations of western cultures as a means of social critique and/or self-appraisal; 2) transformation of “imported” western genres. Readings include works by several of Iran’s most prominent authors: Sadeq Hedayat, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, Simin Daneshvar, Goli Taraqqi, and Shahrnush Parsipur.

Iranian Women Writers

In the old and turbulent history of Iran, women have relied on words as their weapon of choice to struggle for peace and justice.  Their foremother, Scheherazade, knew the futility of fighting injustice with violence.  Like Scheherazade, Iranian women writers continue to find solace and strength in the limitless power of words. Since the mid-nineteenth century, Iranian women writers have desegregated a predominantly all-male literary tradition.  They have also been at the forefront of a bloodless social movement.  At home and in Diaspora, they have produced highly acclaimed bestsellers, touching the hearts and minds of an international reading public on an unprecedented scale.  This course studies this inspiring presence on the world stage through a variety of genre and, in particular, life narratives.

PETR 3320/5320 - Life Narratives & Iranian Women Writers

This seminar examines life narratives and other forms of literary output by Iranian women writers. We will examine the ways these writers have desegregated a predominantly all-male literary tradition, as well as their arrival at the forefront of a bloodless social movement. Some of the genres to be investigated include novels, short stories, poetry, autobiographies, memoirs, and films.

Credits: 3

PETR 3322/5322 - The Life and Poetry of Forugh Farrokhzād

This course focuses on the life and art of Forugh Farrokhzad in a spectrum of genres that includes poetry, short stories, travel narratives, literary criticism, essays, and films by and about her. Although from the beginning of her literary career, Farrokhzad was a daring, often irreverent explorer of taboo topics, she was also deeply rooted in the Iranian culture. We study the body of her work to better understand the subversive nature of its subject matter, technique, or point of view, as well as its simple, unpretentious, and lucid language. We also examine the rhetoric and poetics of sex segregation, voice, choice, visibility, and mobility in order to gain a more coherent view of the social, political, and cultural realities of Iran in the 1950s and 60s.

Credits: 3

PETR 3220/5220 - Twentieth-Century Persian Literature in Translation 

Introduces modern Persian literature in the context of Iranian society and civilization. Lectures and discussions follow the development of modern Persian poetry and prose, and trace the influence of Western and other literature, as well as Iranian literary and cultural heritage, on the works of contemporary Iranian writers. Facilitates understanding of contemporary Iran, especially its people, both individually and collectively, with their particular problems and aspirations in the twentieth-century world. Taught in English

Credits: 3