Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies


23 April 2024
15:00 - 17:00
Trans 10, 0.19

Memory Forum Seminar with Arash Ghajarjazi

Remembering Khayyam: Episodes of Unbelief in Persian Thought

I am currently in the final stages of completing a book project that I have been working on for two years, as part of the ERC project Beyond Sharia led by Prof. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. At its core, Beyond Sharia aims to explore antinomian ideas and their contexts within the Muslim world. My book examines the Iranian context and provides the first systematic literary-historical approach to atheism and unbelief in the field of Iranian and Islamic Studies. 

The book project centres on the concept of memory and targets two academic fields. On the one hand, it aims to curate for memory studies scholars a “conceptual persona” – to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term – which is frequently linked with notions of unbelief and atheism in Persian. This persona is Omar Khayyam, whose poetry has continued to be remembered in different historical contexts by different literate societies in Iran since medieval times until it became a global phenomenon after the 19th-century English poet and Orientalist Edward FitzGerald (d. 1883) translated seventy-five quatrains in Khayyam’s name into English in 1859. On the other hand, my book aims to invite scholars of Iranian and Islamic Studies to converse with the interdisciplinary study of memory. Taking inspiration from Paul Ricoeur’s Memory, History, and Forgetting, I show that remembering Khayyam in Persian offers a uniquely lucid example of how the question “of what are there memories” takes priority over the question of “whose memory is it?⁠” (p. 3). The continual remembrance of Khayyam as a figuration of unbelief transforms the historical persona of a medieval poet into a transhistorical persona that moves across different times and places. In my presentation, I will discuss how I position this book in debates on cultural memory, secularity, literary studies, and Islamic Studies. 


Arash Ghajarjazi is a postdoc fellow at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. He works across the fields of decolonial Media History, Memory Studies, and Religious Studies. He published his first monograph in 2022, titled Irrationalities in Islam and Media in Nineteenth-Century Iran, and contributed a chapter on Islamic fascism in Rosi Braidotti and Rick Dolphijn’s edited volume Deleuze and Guattari’s and Fascism in the same year. His research integrates methodologies from Literary and Cultural Theory, Religious Studies, and Media Archeaology.