The University of Chicago has been teaching ancient Iran and Iranian languages since the archaeological expeditions of the Oriental Institute in the 1920s, and began regularly teaching Persian literature (from the 10th to the 20th century) in 1966, one of the first universities in North America to do so. Today, courses are offered at the University of Chicago by the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in Old Persian, Middle Persian and modern Persian language; and courses requiring advanced Persian by NELC, South Asian Languages and Civilizations and the Divinity School.

Persian is an Indo-European language, which adopted the Arabic alphabet (with minor modifications) as its primary script since the tenth-century. Modern Persian, as the language is called to distinguish it from its older, pre-Islamic stages, has been very simplified – it lacks grammatical gender, and has no cases, so - like English – there is no declension of nouns and adjectives.  Likewise, the verbal system is regular and can be easily conjugated after learning a single paradigm of conjugational suffixes.

Persian is the official language of Iran (‘Fārsi’ فارسی) and of Tajikistan (‘Tajiki’ точики/ форси), and one of the two official languages of Afghanistan (‘Dari’  فارسی/ دری); it is also residually spoken in scattered areas of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and in western China), and was for centuries an official or prestige language of the Ottoman empire and of Mughal India.  Persian language classes at the University of Chicago focus on the modern standard Persian of Iran, but the differences between this and other dialects of Persian are not so significant to make mutual communication impossible, and there is practically no difference in classical literature, which is shared by all varieties and dialects of Persian. After learning modern Persian for two years (Elementary Persian 101-102-103 and Intermediate Persian 201-202-203), students will be able to take more advanced courses in the history and historiography of the Persianate world,  in Persian literature (both pre-modern and modern, with a focus on classical Persian literature), Islamic mysticism, Iranian religions, Iranian cinema, etc.

Elementary Persian I, II, III

This sequence emphasizes all skills of language acquisition (reading, writing, listening, speaking).  The goal is to enable the student towards the end of the sequence to read, understand, and translate simple texts in modern standard Persian and engage in short everyday dialogs.  All the basic grammatical structures are covered.

Intermediate Persian I, II, III

The goal of this sequence is to enable the students to gain proficiency in all skills of language acquisition at a higher level.  The student learns more complex grammatical structures, and gradually other levels of language (colloquial, literary) are introduced, and they will learn more about the culture and history of Iran.  Texts include selected articles, stories, and poetry (classical and modern).

Advanced Courses and Independent Study

Advanced students can take regularly offered courses in history, literature, culture, mysticism and religion or design in consultation with faculty an independent  reading course (ideally by forming a small group of students with a shared interest in the topic) to improve their ability to read, understand and translate academic and scholarly materials for their research.

The University of Chicago Persian Circle (anjoman-e soxan) also meets weekly for talks presented in Persian on a variety of topics (often by guest speakers from outside, sometimes by Iranian students or advanced learners of Persian).  Presentations are followed by discussion in Persian.