The death of Ahriman: Culture, identity and theological change among the Parsis of India.
AuthorManeck, Susan Stiles.
Committee ChairEaton, Richard M.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis study examines the history of the Parsi community from their arrival in India until the middle of the nineteenth century, giving special emphasis to the impact that other religious and social systems existing in India had on the formation of Parsi identity and also to the continuing influence of communication with co-religionists remaining in Iran. This study argues that Indian Zoroastrians, in attempting to formulate their identity in terms of the religious communities which surrounded them, have completely transformed those things that have generally been regarded as their religion's distinguishing features. The impact of modernity continued the transformations already in process. Hinduism primarily affected Parsi practices and social systems. Like Hindu castes, Parsis refused to interdine or intermarry with those outside their community and prohibited the conversion of outsiders. But caste never defined the Parsis' choice of vocation as it did those of other Indians. This versatility allowed Parsis to involve themselves in all phases of production and distribution and gave them an edge over other merchant groups. The impact of Islam was felt primarily in the area of theology. Parsis utilized Islamic terminologies and came to share Muslim monotheistic presuppositions. Zoroastrians down-played their veneration of the elements and even came to regard Ahriman, once seen as the malignant twin to God Himself, as a lesser being wholly dependent on God's sovereignty. Periods of economic prosperity created conflicts in which laymen sought to undermine priestly authority by appealing to Zoroastrian priests residing in Iran. When Iranian Zoroastrians proved unable to mediate these disputes any longer, the community began to turn towards other outsiders as final authorities, at first Islamic, and later European ones. Zoroastrianism's confrontation with Christianity, which coincided with the introduction of the printing press, brought further changes in Parsi beliefs. Parsis embraced Enlightenment thought, utilizing it to defend themselves against missionary attacks. Although rejecting Christian theology, they eventually adopted the methodologies of higher criticism by which Europeans studied Zoroastrianism and largely accepted their findings.