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A Survey of Persian Encyclopedias



The article, following a brief reference to the encyclopedias being currently being published in Iran, focuses on the Da'erat al-Ma`aref-e Tashayyo` [The Encyclopedia of Tashayyu`] and Zendeginame-ye Daneshvaran [Dictionary of Scientific Biography] in terms of their contents, style, strengths and flaws as well their most noteworthy entries.

The Encyclopedia of Tashayyo', according to the author, reflects, as it should, the general worldview and cultural propensities of Shi'ism, is more descriptive than analytical, and is written in a style suitable for the general reader. It relies heavily on Persian and Arabic sources and, with rare exceptions, ignores western sources and documents.

Despite the persistent tendency in the shi'ite tradition, particularly in post-Safavid Iran, to denigrate and malign Sunni Islam, the author asserts that the Encyclopedia of Tashayyo' is marked by a temperate tone. Its occasional propagandistic and partisan line notwithstanding, its entries are generally objective and documented and altogether devoid of the exaggerated assertions suitable only for the religious fanatic. Its entries on "The Constitutional Revolution" and the "Pahlavi" are prime examples of this moderation and objectivity.

While the author underlines a number of factual and stylistic flaws and shortcomings in this work, he finds Zendeginame-ye Daneshvaran as a peerless work of superb quality and meticulous editing. He concludes by asserting that while seminars and conferences organized in Iran do not produce any tangible results, money spent for the authorship and publication of these encyclopedias must be considered one of the most useful public expenditures in the country.

Author: 
Ehsan Yarshater
Volume: 
14
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