MRC's Wintersession Is A Success

Feb. 12, 2024

“Check your energy before you enter” reads the sign at the entrance of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center’s inaugural Wintersession offering: “Magic, Genies and More: The Supernatural In and Out of Iran.” Its evil eye greets you wittily and perhaps forebodingly.  

Upon entering, attendees were greeted with informative Center materials, evil eye keepsakes for distribution after the event, and snacks to fend off hunger pangs during the lunchtime session.

Oranges, granola bars, evil eye ornaments, plates, and MRC Annual Reports laid out on a table with a bright blue tablecloth.

A product of the Office of Campus Engagement, Wintersession’s raison d’etre is to engage “graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff to experiment and explore through unexpected, active and intriguing non-graded learning and growth opportunities.” Supporting the Center’s interest in engaging with audiences across campus and highlighting the breadth of subjects it covers – for fun and research - the research facilitators created a presentation that utilized an interdisciplinary approach to examine contemporary Iranian cultural beliefs and folklore.

Beeta Baghoolizadeh, Negar Razavi, and Maral Sahebjame collaborated on a presentation featuring jinn, or genies in western terms; cultural beliefs and practices around the evil eye and finally the gendered dimensions of jinn. The work was prepared by the three researchers respectively and delivered by Razavi and Sahebjame.

Negar Razavi to the left of a projector screen that reads "Magic, Genies, and More: The Supernatural In and Out of Iran." Attendees sit, listening.

The researchers discussed the role of jinn in modern Iranian and American culture, sharing a clip from I Dream of Jeannie and providing a look into exorcism practices. Using a family heirloom, Sahebjame performed a ritual meant to keep jinn at bay. She invited a volunteer to engage in a ritual that she learned from her grandmother: step through a specific fabric with an open square in the middle three times to protect against jinn.

Attendees were entered into a raffle to win the book The Iranian Metaphysicals: Exploration in Science, Islam and the Uncanny by Alireza Doostdar. The book is a distillation of ten years of Doostdar’s research work, where he “examine[s] encounters with occult specialists, séances with the souls of the dead, new forms of exorcism and healing, and appeals to marvelous mystical powers.” As part of the MRC’s Wednesday seminar series, Alireza Doostdar will speak next week on February 14th; his talk is titled “Facing Satan: The Iranian Revolution and Its Demons.”

Maral Sahebjame and Negar Razavi laughing as they present. The presentation slide reads: "Zar Rituals."

The final element of the Center’s Wintersession included Turkish coffee readings, where friends and family of the researchers made authentic Turkish coffee and performed coffee readings. The coffee readings provided attendees with an opportunity to participate in one of the cultural practices shared during the presentation. Attendees were given traditional Iranian sweets to go with their coffee; baklava cake, noon gerdooyi, rosewater cookies, and ghorabi were enjoyed by all.

By the end of the session, participants were filled not just with Iranian sweets and coffee, but with an interest and appreciation for contemporary beliefs and occult practices in Iran and the Persian Gulf.