All too often, Mirzaei and Sadati contend, Yazd has been seen only through an all-purpose “(conservative) Islamic community lens” largely inspired by Euro-centric scholarship and which is circulated in social media and by international news outlets. They show that, in fact, understanding of overlap of tradition and modernity passes by a study of local/indigenous mores. Also, the authors show that, especially in light of local-community context, “Islamic” tradition is not, as it is too-often depicted, just a synonym for “backward-looking conservatism”.

In Yazd, for example, “otherness” tends to be celebrated; women there make a remarkably strong contribution to general society and education. Indeed, long host to large communities of Afghan and Arab refugees, Yazd, one of the main centres of Zoroastrianism, has continued on as home to a vibrant Zoroastrian religious community since a long time ago. This ancient religion owes its persistence to local context as well as the inter-communal tolerance. In addition, the authors see the increasingly feminine presence in university and other academic posts as evidence of an ongoing social opening to women and point to a downward trend in rates of depression among younger women as compared to middle-aged and elderly women (p. 21).

Whether inspired by local or Islamic tradition, openness to otherness and an ability to adapt to modern developments such as gender equality, Mirzaei and Sadati point out that the acceptance of modernity is not a contemporary innovation. In the area of health and well being, for instance, local empirical medicine has been systematically replaced and/or complemented with Galenic- and Avicennean- medical theory since the Qajar period, in the first half of the 19th century. This suggests to the authors that in science at least there is no clash along a “culture border”; generation or acceptance of rational science is not a quality of particular community.

Creativity and comprehensiveness are the main features of Mirzaei’s and Kalateh Sadati’s Anthropology & Sociology of the city of Yazd. The work may be considered a strong contribution to the history of science, medicine, anthropology, sociology and religious studies in Iran and the Islamic world.

Orientalisches Seminar

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg