The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, knowledge, moral principles, laws, customs, traditions, and all other products of human work and thought which have developed over the course of a very long period of time is known as the culture of that society. Similarly, the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of any given culture is called “popular culture”. This culture, which permeates the everyday lives of ordinary people, is closely related to western folklore or the collection of traditional beliefs, myths, tales, and practices of a people which are transmitted orally. It is emphasized that popular culture is not equivalent to ordinary culture or the culture of common people as opposed to that of the elite. This is because many of the people who are considered to belong to the elite, either by themselves or others, also follow the norms of popular culture. Therefore, this culture is not limited to laymen or ordinary people; rather, it belongs to all the members of a given society, including both the elite and ordinary people, literate and illiterate people, and learned and unlearned groups
The research Project on Popular Culture entails the study, investigation, and collection of some major and minor aspects of popular culture versus the more officially recognized culture within the category of native and indigenous studies and inquiries in the field of Iranology. Without doubt, if such studies are conducted by Iranian researchers focusing on native cultural features, they will clearly be of a higher quality than those carried out by foreign researchers. Moreover, they could pave the way for more extensive applied research activities to be conducted in future. Evidently, locally-based sociology and anthropology are in great demand for studies on popular culture as rich sources of knowledge about each particular society. Accordingly, the findings of this Project could be of great value to any research concerning Iran, Iranians, and Iranian culture. Furthermore, this Project can present a series of the customs and traditions that are becoming extinct and suggest some ways and strategies to preserve them. Naturally, one of these ways is to record them accurately in written documents for future generations to read.
In order to study popular culture, researchers are advised to delve into various fields of science and explore the beliefs, moral values, arts, laws, habits, and components of a culture within a given national, geographical, and ethnic community while collecting sufficient data on each of them. They should also take into consideration the material and spiritual achievements of Iran throughout history and pay attention to the fact that the vast geographical area of Iran, its high ethnic variety, and long history have resulted in the development of a particularly great cultural variety rarely witnessed elsewhere. This, by itself, makes the task of research in the realm of Iranian popular culture challenging and demands a well-considered and accurate approach to conducting each separate stage of research. It appears that the correct method for conducting such an extensive research project is to classify all the discreet components into related groups and proceed in a step-wise fashion through the different stages of the study. The various variables in the field of popular culture can be divided into the following categories:
- Customs and traditions in relation to the four main life events, namely birth, death, marriage, and divorce
- National feasts and ceremonies, such as Eid-e Nowruz, Chaharshanbeh Suri, Shab-e Yalda, Tirgan Feast, Mehregan Feast, and the Water Splashing Festival
- Religious rituals and ceremonies, such as lamentation and mourning ceremonies during the Islamic calendar months of Muharram and Safar
- Rituals and customs related to religious celebrations, such as Eid-e Ghadeer, Eid-e Fitr, and those of the months of Ramadan and Sha’ban
- Local customs and ceremonies, such as the Harvest Feast and the End of Rain ceremony
- Alternative medicine
Considering the vast area of the land of Iran, its eventful history, ethnic variety, and the many different customs, traditions, and social patterns and paradigms that have resulted in great cultural diversity in this country, research in the field of Iranian popular culture must be carried out following both field and library methods.
In field research, researchers study their chosen topics in different regions of the country. The provincial branches of the Iranology Foundation, as the main centers for conducting local studies, can be of great help in this regard. In library research, researchers explore and utilize several written sources on the history, literature, geography, and local cultures and folklore of a country as well as the travel accounts of those who have traveled to its different areas.
The number of these references and sources can sometimes amount to several hundred. Of course, at the same time as studying the written historical sources, researchers should also familiarize themselves with all the recent investigations and studies carried out by other Iranian and non-Iranian experts on their special subjects of interest.
Given the huge amount of data available, the chosen period of study in this Project has been limited at the first step to the last 200 years (with some exceptions). This period has seen several generations who seem to have been the heirs to certain undiscovered and hidden social customs and traditions. Through a careful analysis of the related texts, one can learn about some customs, traditions, manners, and rituals that have historical roots. However, the purpose of this Project is to examine those which are currently alive in people’s minds and lives.