SANAI, MAHMOUD (Ṣanāʿi, Maḥmūd; b. Arāk, 23 May 1919; d. London, 13 September 1985), professor of psychology, psychoanalyst, educator, writer, translator, and government official (Figure 1, Figure 2).

Sanai’s family originated in the city of Arāk and later moved to Hamadān, where his father, Ḥāj Aḥmad Ṣanāʿi Homāyuni, was involved in the production and trade of carpets. Sanai received his primary school education at the American School in Hamadān. The family later moved to Tehran, where Sanai studied at the American College of Tehran (later Alborz College), followed by two additional undergraduate degrees in Philosophy and in Persian Literature from Tehran University’s Faculty of Letters and Humanities, and a Licence-en-Droit (LLB) from Tehran University’s Faculty of Law and Political Science. In 1945 Sanai went to England for further studies, beginning with a British Council scholarship in political science at the London School of Economics (LSE), London University, where he worked closely with Harold Laski (1893-1950), the eminent professor of political theory; there followed a BA and a doctorate (PhD) in Psychology at the University College London (UCL), London University. Sanai completed his doctoral research under the supervision of the renowned educational psychologist Sir Cyril Birt (1883-1971) (Sanai, CV; Communication with Mina Sanai). Subsequently he was trained at the Tavistock Clinic London (1950-51) and at the British Institute of Psychoanalysis (1951-55) and became a certified practicing psychoanalyst (Sanai, CV).

In 1953 he became a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association (Matini 1986, p. 181). He was also an Associate Member of both the British Psychological Society and the British Psychoanalytic Society. In London he joined the Iran Society and served as its Assistant Honorary Secretary in 1950-51 (Iran Society). During 1954-57 Sanai was appointed as Cultural Attaché with the rank of Counselor at the Iranian Embassy in London (The Times of London, 10 February 1954, p. 6) and Director of Iranian Education Office advising Iranian students studying in the UK. During 1957-71 Sanai held a private clinic in Tehran as psychoanalyst. In 1963-64 he also offered seminars on Freudian psychoanalysis for psychiatric residents at Tehran University’s Faculty of Medicine. In 1964 Sanai was on the founding board of Bonyād-e Farhang-e Irān, together with Moḥammad Bāheri (1926-2007), Ḏabihollāh Ṣafā, Yaḥyā Mahdavi (1908-2000), and Parviz Nātel-Ḵānlari who served as its Executive Director. His further collaborations with Nātel-Ḵānlari during this period also included his participation on the advisory board for evaluation of new school textbooks (see Education xvi. School Textbooks; Education vii. General Survey of Modern Education).

Sanai returned to Tehran in 1955 and subsequently joined the Faculty of Letters and Humanities (Assistant Professor 1957-62, Professor in 1962) and founded the Institute of Psychology (Moʾassesa-ye Ravānšenāsi; affiliated to Tehran University). He served as its director (1965-72) and carefully oversaw its library acquisitions, which included both the core material as well as up to date periodicals and reference works relating to psychology and related fields. At Tehran University he was also invited to teach classes on social psychology by Ḡolām-Ḥoseyn Ṣadiqi (1905-91), who was the head of the Institute for Social Studies and Research (Moʾassesa-ye Moṭāleʾāt va Taḥqiqāt-e Ejtemāʿi), also an affiliate of Tehran University. In this period Sanai also served as the head of Teachers Training College (1960-61), head of the national examination board (Modiriyat-e Āzmunšenāsi), and Deputy Minister of Education (1959-60) (Sanai, CV; Matini, 1986, p. 181; Ḥamidpur).

In psychology and psychoanalysis, following Freudian theories of mind and mental illness, Sanai’s main interest and research were focused on the study of “attitude,” for which he later, in his book Fard dar ejtemāʿ (The individual in society, 1968), suggested the term bāzḵord as its Persian equivalent. During 1949-52, while at UCL, Sanai published a number of research papers in English relating to the study of “attitude” in specialized journals (see Bibliography). A perennial concern in many of Sanai’s writings was the notion of āzādi (liberty/freedom) embracing the rights and responsibilities of the individual as well as imposing checks and limits on government’s power. This can be seen in several of his publications, such as Āzādi-ye fard va qodrat-e dowlat (The Freedom of the Individual and the Power of the Government), a compendium volume introducing the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Stuart Mill (see Bibliography). He was also amongst the first to introduce major trends in British political philosophy, which had hitherto been largely sidelined thanks to the preponderant influence of continental European thinkers in Iran.

Sanai also introduced a psychoanalytic approach to his analysis of literature, as is apparent in his extended essay analyzing a select group of stories in Ferdowsi’s Šāh-nāma, where, by drawing on Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious, he examined the interplay of opposite forces and their impact on fate and destiny (Sanai, 1969; repr., 2005).

In 1955 and 1957 Sanai published his lucid Persian translation of nine of Plato’s dialogues. These included, respectively, Laches, Lysis, Ion, Protagoras, and Symposium (in Majmuʿa-ye panj resāla-ye Aflāṭun), followed by Menon, Phaedrus, Theaetetus, and Hippias Major (in Čehār resāla-ye Aflāṭun). He also contributed to  Kāvoš, a monthly periodical dealing mostly with social, political, and economic issues, as well as with history, literature, and the arts. It was published in 1960-64 by the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) with Amir-ʿAbbās Hoveydā as its registered founder and ʿAli-Reżā Ḥeydari (1925-2007) as its editor-in-chief. Other contributors were mostly from the Iranian intellectual and scholarly elite and included Ṣādeq Čubak, Masʿud Farzād, Farroḵ Ḡaffāri (1921-2006), Jalāl Moqaddam (1929-96), Nāder Nāderpur, Moḥammad Qāżi, Saʿid Nafisi (1896-1966), Ebrāhim Pur-Dāvud (1885-1968), and Ḥamid Rahnemā (1911-96), among others.

Sanai’s style, both in his own writings and in his translations, have been praised as elegantly written specimens of contemporary Persian prose (Matini, 1978, pp. 128-59; Dabirsiāqi, 1995; Barzegar, 1960, pp. 265-78). Sanai was deeply steeped in Persian literature, as can be seen from frequent references and allusions to Ferdowsi, Hāfeẓ, and Rumi sprinkled in his own writings. He occasionally wrote poems himself under the pen name of Forud Hunar (Afšār, 1985-86, p. 734) and, at least on one occasion, Behruz Barfini (Matini, 1986, p. 185). In 1961 in Tehran he met Minā Fulādvand, a graduate of psychology from Columbia University; they married in 1962 and subsequently had three children.

In 1970 together with his family Sanai returned to London. He was a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association and its constituent organization, the British Psychoanalytical Society. Sanai spent his professional life in London  mostly in psychoanalytic practice, holding a private clinic from 1971 onwards; he also renewed contact and collaborated with the Hampstead Child Therapy Course and Clinic (formerly Hampstead War Nurseries) founded by Anna Freud (1895-1982), in whose honor, after 1982, the name was changed to Anna Freud Centre. In addition to seeing patients, Sanai also continued with writing and research. On the invitation of Ishak Ramzy (d. 1992), an Egyptian-born psychologist and pioneer in the field of child psychology based at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, on two occasions in the early 1980s he traveled to the United States and lectured at the Menninger Foundation (Communication with Mina Sanai). During 1972-85 Sanai also served on the board of editors of the Cambridge History of Iran and “was the official liaison between the editorial board and the scientific centers of Iran” (Darke, 1990; Matini, 1986, p. 181). The unfolding of the Iranian Revolution and the outbreak and prolongation of the Iran-Iraq War prompted Sanai to make a number of public statements on the prospects of new political order in Iran, and the urgent need for an independent commission appointed by the United Nations to determine the aggressor in initiating the war and propose ways to settle the conflict, a diversion from his otherwise professional and academic settings (Sanai, 1979 and 1983).


Bibliography (online resources accessed 7 November 2013):

Unpublished sources.

Mahmoud Sanai, Curriculum Vitae, London, ca. 1970s, 3 pp., with references to educational background, positions held, and a selective and short list of publications (courtesy of Mina Fuladvand Sanai).

Communication with Mina Fuladvand Sanai, 18 and 25 October 2011.

Works by Sanai.

(1) Research papers in English.

M. Sanai and P. M. Pickard, “The Relation between Politico-Economic Radicalism and Certain Traits of Personality,” The Journal of Social Psychology 30/2, 1949, pp. 217-27.

M. Sanai, “An Experimental Study of Politico-Economic Attitudes,” International Journal of Opinion and Attitude Research 4, 1950, pp. 563-77.

Idem, “A Factorial Study of Social Attitudes,” Journal of Social Psychology 31/2, 1950, pp. 167-82.

Idem, “An Experimental Study of Social Attitudes,” Journal of Social Psychology 34/2, 1951, pp. 235-64.

Idem, “An Empirical Study of Political, Religious and Social Attitudes,” British Journal of Psychology, Statistical Section 5/2, 1952, pp. 81-92.

Idem, “The Relation between Social Attitudes and Characteristics of Personality,” Journal of Social Psychology 36/1, 1952, pp. 3-13.

(2) Books and translations.

M. Sanai, Hārold Lāski: Yādi az ostād (Harold Laski: A tribute to the teacher), Tehran, 1953.

Idem, tr., Majmuʿa-ye panj resāla-ye Aflāṭun (Collection of five dialogues by Plato [Laches, Lysis, Ion, Protagoras, Symposium]), Tehran, 1955.

Idem, tr., Čehār resāla-ye Aflāṭun (Four dialogues by Plato [Menon, Phaedrus, Theaetetus, Hippias Major]), Tehran, 1957.

Idem, Falsafa-ye ʿelmi, vol. 1: Pišgoftār, vol. 2: Raveš-e taʾbir-e ḵvāb, Tehran, 1959; repr., Tehran, 1966. (The focus of this work is on Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams.)

Idem, Āzādi-ye fard va qodrat-e dowlat: Baḥṯ dar ʿaqāyed-e siāsi va ejtemāʾi-ye Tomās Hābz, Jān Lāk, Jān Estivārt Mil, bā tarjoma-ye gozida-i az nevešta-hā-ye ānān (The freedom of the individual and the power of the government: An introduction to the ideas of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Stuart Mill together with the translation of samples of their writings), Tehran, 1959; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1965.

Idem, tr., Dar bāra-ye āzādi (tr. of John Stuar Mill, On Liberty), Tehran, 1959.

Idem, tr., Oṣul-e ravānšenāsi (tr. of Norman L. Munn, Psychology: The Fundamentals of Human Adjustment, Boston and New York, 1946; 2nd ed., Boston, 1951; 4th ed., Boston, 1961), Tehran, 1963;  repr., Tehran, 1992.

Idem, tr., Fard dar ejtemāʿ (tr. of David Krech, Richard S. Crutchfield, and Egerton L. Ballachey, Individual in Society, London, 1962), Tehran, 1962.

Idem, Ravānšenāsi-ye āmuḵtan (Psychology of learning), Tehran, 1962; repr., 1970.

Idem, Āzadi va tarbiat (Liberty and education), Tehran, 1975.

(3) Essays and Poems (authored and translated).

M. Sanai, tr., “Niruhā-ye ensāni” (tr. of William James, “Energies of Men”), Mehr 5/10, 1938, pp. 1021-27; Mehr 5/11, 1938, pp. 1128-34.

Idem, tr., “Qavānin-e ʿadat” (tr. of William James, “The Laws of Habit,” chapter in his Talks to Teachers on Psychology: And to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals, 1899), Mehr 6/1, 1938, pp. 89-95.

Idem, “Āyā bashar taraqqi kardeh-ast?” (Has man progressed?), Mehr 6/2, 1938, pp. 171-78; Mehr 6/3, 1938, pp. 257-64; Mehr 6/4, 1938, pp. 323-30.

Idem, “Neẓām-e ṭabiʿat va eḵtiār-e mā,” Irān-e emrouz 2/8, 1940, pp. 39-40.

Idem, “Komak-e ravānšenāsi beh kašf-e jarāʾem” (The use of psychology in forensics), Irān-e emruz 2/11, 1941, pp. 39-40.

Idem, “Enʿekās-e mašruṭ,” Irān-e emruz 3/11, 1942, pp. 23-25.

Idem, “Enʿekās-e mašruṭ dar āmuzeš va parvareš va dar taḥqiq ravānšenasi,” Irān-e emruz 3/12, 1942, pp. 21-24.

Idem, “Čeguna miḵvānim?,” Mehr 7/1, 1942, pp. 56-62.

Idem, “Pāvlof va ḵedmati ke be ravānšenāsi kardeh ast,” Mehr-e Iran, 7/5-6, 1942, pp. 342-48.

Idem, tr., “Zendegi-ye ḵub” (tr. of Bertrand Russell’s essay “The Good Life,” on the general theme of humanism, from his collection of essays, What I Believe, 1925), Soḵan 1/4-5, 1943, pp. 221-28.

Idem, tr., “Oṣul-e moqaddamāti-ye āmuzeš va parvareš” (partial tr. of Edward L. Thorndike and Arthur I. Gates, Fundamental Principles of Education), Soḵan 1/7-8, 1944, pp. 427-37; Soḵan 1/9-10, 1944, pp. 523-29; Soḵan 1/11-12, 1944, pp. 574-80.

Idem, tr., “Sāḥel-e Dover” (tr. of Mathew Arnold’s poem, “Dover Beach”), Soḵan 1/1, 1944, p. 442.

Idem, “Taṭavvor va čegunegi-ye ān,” Soḵan 2/4, 1945, pp. 257-63.

Idem, “Tarbiyat va ejtemāʿ,” Soḵan 7/7, 1946, pp. 633-36.

Idem, “Esteqlāl-e zabān-e Fārsi,” Soḵan 11, 1950, pp. 133-36.

Idem et al., “Tafannon-e adabi: šamʿ-e ʿomr” (a poem), Yaḡmā 34, 1951, pp. 538-39.

Idem, “Mysticism in Persian Poetry,” based on Lecture given to the Sindhi Sufi Society on Friday, 2nd February 1951, Iran (The Journal of the Iran Society) 1/3, July 1951, pp. 91-109.

Idem [Forud Hunar, pen name], “Gomgašta-ye man,” Yaḡmā 52, 1952, p. 297.

Idem, “Rāz-e ṣanʿatgar,” Yaḡmā 56, 1953, pp. 496-99.

Idem, “Peyvand-e to,” Yaḡmā 57, 1953, p. 537.

Idem, “Kohneh va naw,” Yaḡmā  57, 1953, pp. 546-53.

Idem, Forud Hunar (penname), “Ḵāleh šeydā,” Yaḡmā 93, 1953, pp. 9-14.

Idem, “Zanān va ḥaqq-e raʾy dar enteḵābāt,” Mehr 8/12, 1953, pp. 704-5.

Idem, “Mabāni-ye tarbiyat,” Yaḡmā 6/1, 1953, pp. 2-10.

Idem, “Avicenna,” Lancet, vol. 264, no. 6833, 14 August 1954, pp. 329-30.

Idem, “Tarbiyat va ejtemāʿ,” Soḵan 7/7, 1956, pp. 633-36.

Idem, “Tabʿid-e kudakān be farangestān,” Soḵan 8/5, 1957, pp. 437-41.

Idem, “Masʾuliyat-e mā dar tarbiyat-e javānān,” Soḵan 9/3, 1958, pp. 205-10.

Idem, “Barnāma-ye tarbiyat va barnāmeh-hā-ye digar,” Soḵan 9/8, 1958, pp. 727-32.

Idem, “ʿĀdat va tarbiyat,” Soḵan 9/9, December 1958-January 1959, pp. 823-31.

Idem, “Ravānšenāsi va masāʾel-e ejtemāʿi,” Soḵan 9/10, 1959, pp. 946-56.

Idem, “Az tarbiyat ča miḵvāhim?” Soḵan 9/11-12, 1959, pp. 1058-64.

Idem, “Falsafa-ye siāsi-ye Tomās Hābz,” Soḵan 10/1, 1959, pp. 17-29.

Idem, “Falsafa-ye siāsi-ye Jān Lāk,” Soḵan 10/2, 1959, pp. 142-53.

Idem, “Āzādi, šarāyeṭ va ḥodud-e ān,” Soḵan 10/2, 1959, pp. 119-25.

Idem, “Falsafa-ye siāsi-ye Jān Estivārt Mil,” Soḵan 10/3, 1959, pp. 247-59.

Idem, “Sāʿati bā Feliks Frankforter,” Soḵan 10/8, 1959, pp. 813-20.

Idem, “Čand nokteh darbāra-ye dānešgāh,” Soḵan 10/9, 1959, pp. 905-13; Soḵan 10/10, 1960, pp. 1021-24; Soḵan 10/11-12, 1960, pp. 1143-50.

Idem, “Raveš-e āmuzeš,” Kāvoš 1/1, 1960, pp. 20-21.

Idem, tr., “Raveš-e taʿbir-e ḵvāb” (tr. a section of S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams), Soḵan 11/6 1960, pp. 635-52.

Idem, “Bozorgi va tabāhi-ye ḵāndān-e Haḵāmaneši” (tr. of Plato’s remarks, in Laws, Book III, on the Achaemenids), Soḵan 11, 1961, pp. 1281-85.

Idem, “Mahātmā Gāndi” (based on the address given on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday anniversary at the Indian Embassy in Tehran in 1961), reprinted in Iran Nameh 4/2, 1986, pp. 186-93.

Idem, “Ravānšenāsi-ye hamkāri,” “Nā-kāmi va parḵāšgari,” “Taḥlil-e nā-kāmi,” a three-part essay, respectively, Soḵan 12/2, 1961, pp. 125-30; Soḵan 12/3, 1961, pp. 243-48; Soḵan 13/6-7, 1962, pp. 657-63.

Idem, “Taḥqiq-e ʿelmi dar šaḵṣiyat-e mojremān,” Masāʾel-ve Irān 1/4, 1963, pp. 147-55.

Idem, “Ḥerṣ-e gosiḵteh band,” Yaḡmā 16/3 (183), 1963, pp. 289-300.

Idem, “Tarbiyat va eqteṣād,” Masāʾel-e Irān 2/2, 1963, pp. 62-74; repr., Masāʾel-e Irān 3/4-5 (28-29), 1965, pp. 91-102.

Idem, “Ravānšenāsi dar ḵedmat-e ṣanʾat,” Otāq-e Ṣanāyeʿ va Maʿāden 1/3, 1963, pp. 8-15.

Idem, “Ravānšenāsi-ye ṣanʿati,” Otāq-e Ṣanāyeʿ va Maʿāden 1/4, 1964, pp. 117-21.

Idem, “Tarbiyat va pišraft-e eqteṣādi-ye ejtemāʿ,” Otāq-e Ṣanāyeʿ va Maʿāden 3/13, 1965, pp. 4-8.

Idem, “Tarbiyat-e dabirestāni va tarbiyat-e ḥerfeh-i,” Otāq-e Ṣanāyeʿ va Maʿāden 3/14, 1965, pp. 4-8.

Idem. “Ḵānevādeh va behdāšt-e ravāni,” Masāʾel-e Irān 3/8 (32), 1965, pp. 253-57.

Idem, “Našr-e motun-e ṣufiāna mofidast yā moẓerr?” Rāhnemā-ye ketāb 9, 1966, pp. 128-30.

Idem, “Fekr va soḵan-e qālebi ya stereotypy,” Yaḡmā 19/1 (213), 1966, pp. 1-10.

Idem, “Tabiʿat-e ādami va ḥokumat-e qānun,” Yaḡmā 19/12 (224), 1967, pp. 618-30.

Idem, “Ravānšenāsi-ye ejtemāʿi,” Yaḡmā  21/12 (246), 1969, pp. 664-72.

Idem, “Ferdowsi ostād-e trāžedi” (based on a lecture given at the Faculty of Letters and Humanities, Tehran University, 6 May 1969), printed in four parts: Yaḡmā  22/3 (249), 1969, pp. 119-26; Yaḡmā 22/4 (250), 1969, pp. 179-86; Yaḡmā 22/6 (252), 1969, pp. 299-303; Yaḡmā 22/8 (254), 1969, pp. 425-32; repr. in full, with additional notes by Abolfażl Ḵaṭibi, in Nāma-ye Farhangestān 7/2 (26), 2005, pp. 140-70.

Idem, “Darbāra-ye keyfiyyat-e tarbiyat: āmuḵtan-e zabān-e ʿelm-e jahāni,” Yaḡmā 22/12 (258), 1970, pp. 677-83.

Idem, Forud Hunar (penname), “Darbāra-ye aṣl-e al-ahamm fil-ahamm,” Yaḡmā 28/7 (325), 1975, pp. 385-90.

Idem, Letter to The Guardian, printed under the heading “Let the ballot box decide who will rule Iran,” published 20 January 1979, p. 8.

Idem [Behruz Barfini, pen name], “Beda ey sāqi” (poem), see Matini, 1986, p. 185.

Idem, Letter to The Times of London (written in London, 30 September 1983), printed under the heading “Iran-Iraq war,” published 11 October 1983, p. 13.

Idem, “Dārbāra-ye Tanidan,” Iran Nameh, 3/2, 1985, pp. 214-19.


I. Afšār, “Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi,” Āyandeh 11/9-10, December 1985-January 1986, pp. 733-35.

I. Afšār and M. Rafiʿi, “In Memoriam: Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi,” Āyandeh, 12/1-3, 1986, pp. 125-27.

A. Barzegar, Šāhkārhā-ye tarjomeh-ye Fārsi-ye moʿāṣer, Tehran,1960, pp. 265-78.

M. Dabirsiāqi, Goftār-hā-ye āmuzandeh va delāviz: gozideh-ye maqālāt-e moʿāṣerān, Tehrān, 1995.

H. S. G. Darke, “Cambridge History of Iran,” in EIr. IV/7, 1990, pp. 724-726; online at

H. Etteḥād, Pažuhešgarān-e moāṣer-e Iran II, Tehran, 2005, pp. 336-40.

G. Gorer Archive, University of Sussex, UK, “Letters (17) 04.04.65-06.10.65 establishing the tour. Correspondents include Sir Arthur Elton, Martin Herz, Mahmoud Sanai, and officers of the travel company.  55/8”


Ḥ. Ḥamidpur, “Doktor Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi,” Anjoman-e Ravānšenāsi-ye Iran (Iranian Psychological Association), available at

Ḥ. Ḥamidpur, “Jāygāh-e tāriḵ ravānšenāsi-ye Irān dar dars-e tāriḵčeh va makāteb,” posted on Farvardin 1390 Š./April 2011, available at

Iran Society website, “Principal Officers,”

J. Matini, ed., Nemuneh-hāʾi az naṯr-e faṣiḥ-e fārsi-ye moʿāṣer-e (Specimens of contemporary eloquent Persian prose), Tehran, 1978.

J. Matini, “Be-yād-e Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi,” Iran Nameh 4/2, 1986, pp. 180-85.

M.-R. Moḥtāṭ, Simā-ye Arāk IV, Tehran, 1994, p. 104.

Ḥ. Qāsemzādeh, “Yādi az ostād,” Čistā 22, 1985, pp. 142-44.

Moʾassesa-ye Ravānšenāsi va ʿOlum-e Tarbiati-ye Dānešgāh-e Tehrān (Tehran University, Institute for Psychology and Educational Sciences), “Dr. Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi,” available at and

ʿA.-A. Tavakkoli, “Zāri bar marg-e ostād doctor Maḥmūd Ṣanāʿi” (three poems, written in London, 20 September 1985, in the memory of Maḥmud Ṣanāʿi), Boḵārā 19, 2001, pp. 166-67.

Ḡ.-ʿA. Velāšjerdi Farahāni, Nāmhā-ye Māndegār I, Arāk, 2001, p. 169.

(Ali Gheissari)

Originally Published: November 8, 2013

Last Updated: November 8, 2013

Cite this entry:

Ali Gheissari, “SANAI, MAHMOUD,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 19 May 2016).