Lecture Honors Donor, Growth of Persian Studies

  • The speaker gesturing at the podium

    In a talk at the Alumni Center, Nasrin Rahimieh, a humanities professor from UC Irvine, says modern Iranian women authors are part of a history going back more than 150 years. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • The donor, sitting in the audience, applauds a speaker

    The lecture and a reception honored Bita Daryabari, a Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian whose $1.5 million gift established a new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • The professor at the podium

    Professor Suad Joseph, founding director of the Middle East/South Asian Studies Program, describes Bita Daryabari as a passionate advocate of Persian history, culture and arts —and "a person who makes things happen." (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • Bita Daryabari receives a plaque from Chancellor Linda Katehi and joins the ranks of Chancellor’s Laureate, the highest level of UC Davis’ Leadership Giving Society. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • Shirin and Javad Rahimian with Suad Joseph standing beside the podium

    The evening also shines a spotlight on an alumna who has supported Persian and Middle East studies for more than a decade. Shirin Rahimian, who earned a bachelor's degree in English, receives a plaque of appreciation. Her husband, Javad, and Professor Suad Joseph, join the audience in applauding her efforts. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • Jocelyn Sharlet, an associate professor of comparative literature, is part of the Persian studies faculty. An expert on classical Arabic and Persian literature, she introduces the keynote speaker. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • Nasrin Rahimieh answers a question from the audience. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

  • Audience members of different ages clapping

    The event drew more than 120 students, faculty, administrators and community members to the Alumni Center. (T.J. Ushing/UC Davis)

Women Writers Shaping Iranian Culture

Women writers are flourishing in Iran, producing best-selling novels and short story collections in spite of social and legal constraints.

And while they write of "seemingly ordinary life," their stories of home and family reflect shifting gender roles and a questioning of individual, communal and national identity, says scholar Nasrin Rahimieh

Rahimieh, who is the Howard Baskerville Professor of Humanities at UC Irvine's Department of Comparative Literature, said their works are part of a larger history of women's writing that challenges social expectations.

However, she said the new generation of authors are shaping the "cultural imaginary" of Iran — a "most exciting turn." 

They present a social critique that is "far more thoroughgoing than any political tract written before [the 1979 Islamic] revolution." Rather than urging readers to rise up against Western domination, contemporary women writers look at an internal malaise, she said.

“In the narratives of seemingly ordinary characters, these stories shine a light on the neglected interior spaces of the nation and invite us to look deeper into its core, not only as a site of women’s responsibility but also a place of contradictions men have long failed to acknowledge.”

A sampling of authors

  • Simin Daneshvar, author of best-selling 1969 novel, Savushun
  • Zoya Pirzad, an Armenian Iranian author of novels Things We Have Left Unsaid and We Will Get Used to It
  • Parinush Sani, author of novels Pidar-i an digari [The Other’s Father] and Sahm-i man [My Lot]


Feb. 22, 2016 — What better way to celebrate UC Davis’ expanding program in Persian studies and its generous benefactor than with a lecture on modern Iranian women writers?

The Jan. 26 event at the Buehler Alumni Center featured a talk by Nasrin Rahimieh, a professor of humanities at UC Irvine and past president of the International Society for Iranian Studies.

The lecture and a reception honored Bita Daryabari, a Silicon Valley philanthropist and humanitarian whose $1.5 million gift established a new Bita Daryabari Presidential Chair in Persian Language and Literature at UC Davis.

Advancing Knowledge of Persian Culture

“Bita’s gift positions UC Davis to become a leading force in advancing the global understanding of Persian language and culture,” Chancellor Linda Katehi told the crowd of more than 120 people.

Katehi presented Daryabari with a plaque and named her a Chancellor’s Laureate, the highest level of UC Davis’ Leadership Giving Society, for her transformational gift.

The UC Office of the President will provide a $500,000 matching fund through a new Endowed Faculty Leadership Initiative. The initiative seeks to create 16 new endowed professorship or chair positions at UC Davis.

Daryabari was the first to support the Endowed Faculty Leadership Initiative, Katehi said. “Bita was the first one who really saw the importance of this.” 

Daryabari had previously contributed to a PARSA Community Foundation endowment, which funds a visiting lecturer in Iranian and Persian studies in the Middle East/South Asia Studies Program.

Visionary Women

The event also highlighted the efforts of three other women in building the Iran and Persian studies program — Distinguished Professor Suad Joseph, alumna Shirin Rahimian and the chancellor herself.

“Nobody can say no to Suad,” Katehi said. “Without Suad, this would not have happened.”

“Chancellor Katehi, we could not have done this without you and your leadership,” said Joseph, a distinguished professor of anthropology and gender, sexuality and women's studies, a faculty adviser to the chancellor, and founding director of the Middle East/South Asia Studies (ME/SA) program. The chancellor committed funding for a lecturer to teach first- and second-year Persian language courses.

Joseph also presented a plaque of appreciation to Rahimian (B.A., English, ’83). She and her husband, Javad, who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering at UC Davis, have been longtime supporters of Persian and Middle East/South Asia studies on campus. Joseph thanked associate professors Jocelyn Sharlet, and Ali Anooshahr and visiting professor Wendy DeSouza for their dedication in building Iranian and Persian studies within ME/SA.

Rahimieh, the Howard Baskerville Professor of Humanities in the Department of Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, saluted Daryabari’s “visionary philanthropy” as well as Joseph and colleagues’ tireless efforts in building the program.

Her talk explored the writings of women in Iran going back to 1848. “I find a remarkable analogy between the visionary women we honor tonight and the generations of Iranian women writers who have questioned and transformed dominant cultural paradigms,” Rahimieh said. 

Related Story

UC Davis Receives $1.5 Million From Prominent Iranian-American Philanthropist

Reported by Kathleen Holder, who covers the social sciences at UC Davis.