Iranian studies are conventionally defined through language. Simply speaking, its objects are languages belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages, and communities and societies whose members used or use these languages in a variety of ways. In this sense the research projects of the institute could be projected on a map that is centered on the three modern nation states which give official status to a variety of Persian: Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. These are joined by regions between the Eastern Mediterranean, the Caucasus and Central Asia where other New Iranian languages are current, such as the Pamir languages, Kurdish and Gorani or Ossetian. Yet the historical influence of Iranian languages as languages of communication, administration or literature reaches beyond these communities and regions. Until the early 20th century Persian played an important role for example in South Asia and the Ottoman Empire including its European provinces, e.g. Bosnia. In antiquity and the early medieval period the Eastern Iranian language Sogdian spread along the Silk Road to China.

Yet a broader historical and cultural studies approach to Iranian studies has to go beyond a merely linguistic definition and generally take cultural processes into consideration. Areas of inquiry such as cultural “spaces in between”, borderlands, diaspora and exile, views and perceptions of self and others, etc. also gain importance. Through exemplary research in cultural studies and social history of Iran and Iranianate / Persianate societies and cultures, the Institute of Iranian Studies aims at contributing to the advancement of theory and methodology in Asian Studies in general.