Zoroastrian Religion and Natural Disasters


Samra E. Azarnouche


October 13, 2023

The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian StudiesUniversity of Toronto Zoroastrian Studies SeminarpresentsZoroastrian Religion and Natural Disasters: The Case of Earthquakes in Ancient IranSamra E. Azarnouche, Associate Professor, École Pratique des Hautes Études – PSL, Paris, Centre de Recherche sur le Monde Iranien  Friday, 13 October 2023, 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time (Canada and US)


The religion of ancient Iran, which developed in geographical areas heavily affected by earthquakes, addressed this phenomenon in a very different way from other religions. Rather than being a manifestation of divine wrath or punishment, seism appeared for the Zoroastrians of late antiquity either as a phase in the process of cosmogony, or as a movement within a complex mechanism. Since the earthquake’s subterranean origins are invisible, the Iranians have imagined a chthonian mechanism set in motion by demons or evil beings. This lecture will attempt to shed some light on the way in which earthquakes are integrated into the account of the creation of the world or attributed to beings affiliated with Ahriman. This attitude of finding a middle way between mythical narration and pseudo-scientific rationalization is very characteristic of the way the Zoroastrians of the late antiquity and early Islamic periods perceived and interpreted natural phenomena and transformations in the world around them.


Samra E. Azarnouche (Ph.D. EPHE, Paris, 2012) is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes – PSL in Paris, where she teaches the history of pre-Islamic religions in Iran and ancient Iranians languages. She is also a member of the CNRS team Centre de Recherche sur le Monde Iranien. Her research focuses on several aspects of Zoroastrianism, including textual sources and the scriptural tradition, religious mythology, and the political and social history of late antiquity. Her publications include a broad range of articles and book chapters, and a book: the annotated edition and translation of the Middle Persian text Husraw ī Kawādān ud Rēdag-ē “Khosrow, fils de Kawād, et un page” (AAEI – Peeters, 2013). She has also edited several collected volumes, including À la recherche de la continuité iranienne: de la tradition zoroastrienne à la mystique islamique. Recueil de textes autour de l’œuvre de Marijan Molé (1924-1963) (Brepols, 2022). She is currently finalizing the first complete edition and translation of a Zoroastrian Middle Persian book, Dēnkard IV, which sheds light on issues of intellectual transfer, patronage in the sciences and ties between rulers and the clergy in the late Sasanian period.