Reception, Lectures on Zoroastrianism by Leading Expert Stewart Draws Wide Attendance

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Sarosh Maneckshaw (left) and Aban Rustomji flank Dr. Sarah Stewart who gave lectures on Zoroastranism in Houston this past weekend.

HOUSTON: The Zoroastrian Association of Houston invited Dr. Sarah Stewart to give the 11th Annual Library Lecture Series at their Center on Saturday, November 1. Entitled Pictures at an Exhibition, Voices of the People, her first lecture was based on The Everlasting Flame: Zoroastrianism in History and Imagination exhibition at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) that ran from October to December 2013. She attended an informal reception at the Center that same evening, which included songs and dances by community members.  Her second lecture was held the next day at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and drew on her recent research on Zoroastrianism in Iran.

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Performers doing a Texan ditty at the reception held at the Zoroastrian Community Center on West Airport on Saturday, November 1. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

Stewart is a lecturer in Zoroastrianism at SOAS, which is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East and had flown in from the UK the evening before.  She is co-editor of the six-volume series Idea of Iran. She was the lead curator of the Everlasting Flame exhibition, which was the first of its kind to give visual expression to Zoroastrian history, culture, and religion.  It also explored the wide reach of the religion in the ancient world and its influence on the major religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The ZAH lecture drew a wide audience from among community members as well as the general public. In the evening reception, there was a traditional Zoroastrian dinner and entertainment provided by ZAH dance and choir group that was enthusiastically received by one and all. The theme of the evening entertainment was “From Bollywood to Broadway” which included three generations of performers. The following morning there was an informal educational session in the ZAH Library where attendees had a chance to have a “conversation” with Stewart.

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The talk at the MFAH was again very well attended and was followed by a reception. In this talk Sarah was able to draw on some of the exhibits from the MFAH’s Al Sabah collection adding a local context to her talk.

The story of Zoroastrianism today, according to Stewart, is one of the interweaving of three traditions: the Iranian tradition that gave birth to the religion, the Parsi tradition established in India once Iran became a Muslim land, and the Western pre-dominantly academic – tradition that emerged when Zoroastrian religious texts became the focus of Oriental Studies in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

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Aban Rustomji, the Chairperson of the Zoroastrian Center Library Committee, who helped organize Stewart’s Houston events, said that libraries are the archives of civilization, a repository of existing knowledge and the place where you can read and discover new knowledge. “They are sources of strength; and because of their special roles throughout history, they have been targets for vandals. We hope that our effort to collect and preserve the growing source of knowledge will be recognized as a repository that fosters the awareness and study of our Zarthushti religion, history, traditions and culture”, she added. Rustomji went on to state that “the information that we collect in both print and non-print media will be one that we can pass on to the next generation of our young Zoroastrians.”

Located in the Zoroastrian Association of Houston at 8787 West Airport Boulevard, Houston, Texas, the Library is the home of FEZANA Information Research education System ( whose mission is to establish and provide global access to a centralized collection of materials in print and electronic form, primarily pertaining to the Zarathushti faith, culture and history.