Skip navigation to content

Department of Arabic and Persian

Persian at St Andrews

Persian has been for centuries the second language of the Middle East and the Islamic world, and is primarily known in Europe for its unique literary tradition which has produced some of the greatest epic, narrative and lyric poems of world literature. It is also known as the lingua franca of the cultural and political élite in the early modern Indian sub-continent. Though its historical significance alone makes Persian worthy of study, it is also an important modern language. Modern Persian has gone through several stages of transformation since the mid nineteenth century, and is a creative, flexible language which has established itself as the national language of such geopolitically and economically important countries as Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is also spoken in several neighbouring countries, including Bahrain, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan among others, and in major migrant communities in the USA and Europe. 

Persian calligraphyPersian is written in the Arabic script, but it is one of the oldest Indo-European languages, and is thus relatively easy for speakers of European and other Indo-European languages to learn. A person who learns Modern Persian can easily read and understand the historical and literary texts written in the tenth century in Iran and greater Iran. The unique artistic and literary tradition of the language has been sustained and developed in various genres, including notably cinema, theatre and poetry. Many students begin with a general political or economic interest in Persian but end up falling in love with the literature and culture, or vice versa. With the potential rapprochement between Iran and the west on the horizon, students may pursue careers in government, international relations, the private sector, the oil industry, banking, multinational companies, journalism, and peace-making, or opt for more academic fields and become lecturers, museum curators, librarians or international cultural experts.

Tehran at nightAt St Andrews the focus is on Modern Persian, with an emphasis on language, literature, drama, visual culture and cinema, but students are also given the opportunity to familiarize themselves with classical literary and historical texts. Since Persian is relatively easy to learn, and there are no major discrepancies between classical and modern Persian, students can gain a relatively good command of the language within the first two years and then proceed to engage with the more challenging historical and literary aspects of the Persian Speaking world. As from 2014 students will be able to study Persian as part of a joint degree, along with a number of other subjects, including Middle Eastern Studies, History, Anthropology, International Relations, Economy, Management, Film Studies and comparative literature. Students will also be able to study Persian along with any other language taught in the school of Modern Languages, including Arabic, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Italian. Our School of Modern Languages has been ranked 2nd in The Guardian University Guide 2018.

Currently there are a number of study abroad programmes for Persian, which include University of Toronto, Canada; University of California, USA (one semester only); University of Pennsylvania, USAUniversity of Virginia, USA. The programme has been closed to Iranian universities during the last four years, but as soon as the current political standoff ends, it is expected that students will be able to spend a semester in Iran at Tehran, Mashhad or Isfahan universities. This will provide students with the opportunity to engage with the language in a native-speaking environment and learn about a culture often misrepresented in the media. For more information on these programmes and how to apply, see the St Andrews Abroad web page.


IMV logo‌The Department of Arabic and Persian at University of St Andrews is pleased to announce IMVbox.com as an 'Official Education Partner'. IMVBox collaborates with the Department of Arabic and Persian in film, culture and education. The purpose of the partnership is to give the opportunity to students to learn differently by watching Iranian movies online with English subtitles. Alongside their Persian classes, students will improve their command of Farsi and sharpen their knowledge of the Middle East and Iranian Cinema by watching Iranian movies on IMVBox.com. Boasting over 1000 streaming films, IMVBox.com is the largest 'online cinematheque' and only legal platform for Iranian content. By showcasing a large selection of award-winning Iranian movies, including features, documentaries, shorts and plays, IMVBox aims to present the diversity, depth and richness of Iranian Cinema. IMVBox's core mission is to "paint a true picture" of the Middle East.