SOAS Research Online

A Free Database of the Latest Research by SOAS Academics and PhD Students

[skip to content]

Stewart, Sarah Rosemary Anne (1998) On the role of the laity in the history of Zoroastrianism. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

PDF - Submitted Version
Download (16MB) | Preview


Although much has been written about both the ancient and the living traditions of Zoroastrianism, no detailed study exists on the role of the laity in the history of the faith. This is perhaps because the surviving religious literature, namely the extant portion of the Avesta, is mainly concerned with priestly matters. As a result, the role of the laity has tended to be overlooked, although, at the same time, certain assumptions have been made. This thesis will raise questions concerning these assumptions. It will begin by looking at accounts of the religion by scholars in the field of Iranian studies with reference to the earliest Zoroastrian texts, the Yasts, and the Gathas of the prophet Zarathustra, and show how various views of the laity have been formed. It will also suggest new ways of approaching the Zoroastrian texts from which these accounts have been constructed. The central text of this thesis belongs to relatively modern times; it is the atas nu Git, or Song of the Fire, which appeared in publication in India in 1879. I have used this text as a means by which to examine lay religious life during the period to which it belongs, and also as a window through which to view the past. This approach is made possible by the fact that the song contains references to past events and to ancient texts. It is quintessentially Zoroastrian in the way in which it is structured: on the one hand expressing certain theological ideas, and on the other, showing a structure which is reminiscent of a number of older Zoroastrian religious texts, including the ancient prayers, or Niyayis. The atas nu Git is unique for the reason that it was composed by laymen for use primarily within a lay context, yet over a period of some two hundred years, it has acquired a semi-official religious status. Today, a performance of the song may take place within an agiary, and is commissioned by priestly as well as lay families. The atas nu Git is, therefore, an ideal text through which to give an account of lay religious life. Through the evidence of oral testimony, it has been possible to substantiate certain religious customs and traditions which are alluded to in the song, but are not described in any detail. Oral testimony is a medium I have used in this thesis to demonstrate the extent to which lay people have been responsible for the development of the religion in recent times in India. It will be shown that the laity has played a more significant role than has previously been assumed by those studying the religion.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:16

Altmetric Data


Download activity - last 12 monthsShow export options
Downloads since deposit
6 month trend
6 month trend
Accesses by country - last 12 monthsShow export options
Accesses by referrer - last 12 monthsShow export options

Repository staff only

Edit Item Edit Item