When you think of a great woman trailblazer of our time, the first name that comes to mind may be Jessica Valenti or Condoleeza Rice, or another woman who lives far away from middle Georgia; you probably don’t expect to be sitting in her class. GCSU students are given that honor in the classes of Professor Claudia Yaghoobi, an Assistant Professor of English Literature with a special concentration in International literature, including Middle Eastern and Persian Literature.
Professor Yaghoobi grew up in an Armenian family in Iran, and remembers always having had a passion for learning, which grew into a passion for teaching. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Islamic Azad University in Rudehen, Iran, and then went on to pursue her Masters in Tehran.
When she came to the United States, she pursued a Master’s degree and then a PHD with the University of California in Santa Barbara. When asked about women who have made an impact in her life, she cites her PHD advisor Dr. Janet Afary. “She really showed me the way. She has supported me, she has helped me,” Yaghoobi explains. “Although she’s a historian, she also started teaching in a distant place, started in a small college and then went to Purdue and finally to University of California, where I was at the time. She’s also a very strong Persian feminist.”
Professor Yaghoobi has done extensive research in the works of the Medieval Sufi poet Attar Nishapuri, “You have to look at his works considering the entire book, because there are separate poems but then they fit into the entire framework of the book. I love his Conference of the Birds.” She cites the Attar of Nishapur as a very progressive voice for a poet in the 13th century; she has written several essays based on this premise. “In Sufism, the main purpose is that you have to love the creations of the divine in order to love the divine, so earthly love leads you to divine love. My argument was that for Attar, he was supportive of human diversity, in that he didn’t exclude people based on their religion, social choices or their sexuality, and by that he proved to be a true Sufi by loving all of humanity you show that you love the divine.”
Although she has been awarded and nominated for several literary prizes, Yaghoobi states that the endeavor she takes the most pride in is finding her voice in the predominantly male crowd. “As a woman trying so hard to establish my voice in that scholarship is very difficult, but also because the scholarship has been very traditional in perspective,” she explains. She recently headed up the Muslim Journey’s program through the Georgia College Library. This group of lectures highlighted the diversity of literary works from the Middle East and one of the main works discussed in that series was Persepolis, a modern graphic novel portraying women in the middle East. Professor Yaghoobi continues this idea of giving modern Middle Eastern women a voice in her own research.
“Nobody looks at Medieval Persian poetry from a very modern perspective in comparative context, and that is what I’m doing. It’s had its enemies but I’ve found supporters too. As a feminist, I’m very happy that I’ve been able to establish a voice as a beginner in that research area.”
As for future endeavors, she will continue to offer classes next semester that inform and challenge the way students think about the Middle East and women. She encourages her students to read everything they can.
“Read everything about every culture about every history and do not make assumptions based on what they hear, here and there and as college students who will be the future generation of this country they are responsible. So they need to be conscious, they need to be aware of what they are reading, of how they’re formulating their opinions and how they’re shaping they’re identity. There needs to be integrity in their identity, they have to have compassion and they need to be free of prejudice.” As for this contributor, I cannot wait to learn more from this remarkable and inspirational woman.
For more information on Professor Yaghoobi, visit her website at http://claudiayaghoobi.com/ .