Sunday, April 01, 2007

Islamic Studies Director Tapped
Published On Thursday, November 16, 2006 3:22 AM

The Harvard Crimson

Crimson Staff Writer

Gurney Professor of History Roy P. Mottahedeh ’60 has been appointed director of a new Islamic Studies program at the University, in charge of developing an initiative funded by a $20 million gift from a Saudi royal prince.

Mottahedeh wrote in an e-mail that the primary focus of the program will be “the study of the cultures of Muslims in the [past] fifteen hundred years, and across the geographical spread in which such cultures have existed.”

According to Mottahedeh, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud’s 2005 gift will come in installments, the first of which has already arrived and is dedicated to graduate fellowships. Subsequent installments will pay for the creation of four new professorships—in Islamic Science, Central Asian Studies, South or Southeast Asian Studies, and Contemporary Islamic Science and Thought—as well as for acquisitions by the Harvard Library.

Dean of the Divinity School William A. Graham wrote in an e-mail that three of the new professorships will ideally be filled by “Islamic specialists on non-Arab Islamic culture and thought” and that the intent is “to increase coverage of Islamic civilization” with no interest in political issues.

“The Islamic Studies for the Islamic Middle East and North Africa at Harvard is very strong,” Mottahedeh, himself a Middle East scholar, wrote. “The present community of scholars strongly welcomes the extension of Islamic studies to areas beyond these regions.”

Jewett Professor of Arabic Wolfhart P. Heinrichs, a member of the steering committee for the new program, said that the program will help address glaring gaps in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations that he says an “unsympathetic administration” has ignored.

“We just lost two fields, Persian Languages and Literatures, and Turkish Languages and Literatures, and we cannot accept any AM or PhD candidates for these fields,” he said. This is “a situation that clearly needs to be rectified.”

Heinrichs said that he is hoping to steer the program toward a focus on modern Islamic studies—“the fields that are of the greatest interest to undergraduates.”

—Staff writer Yifei Chen can be reached at

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