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Centre for Iranian Studies a first in Canada

Concordia University

Concordia University

New research centre raises Concordia’s profile on the international stage, says director

The new Centre for Iranian Studies has put Concordia University on the map as one of the leading research centres in Iranian studies, says Richard Foltz, director of the centre and a professor of religion.

“We’ve now marked out Concordia as one of perhaps a dozen universities worldwide that are seriously active in Iranian studies,” says Foltz, whose specializes in Iranian history and civilization.

The Centre for Iranian Studies is the first of its kind in Canada and is one of four new research centres established by the Faculty Council of Arts and Science earlier this year. The centre seeks to enhance collaborative research and graduate training opportunities in the broad field of Iranian Studies. The Iranian Studies group unites members from the Departments of Religion, Sociology and Anthropology, and Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics.

A revamped minor at the undergraduate level and a new certificate program are expected to accept students for the 2012-13 academic year. Work has been underway to streamline graduate studies, in which candidates can research Iran-related topics within or across departments. Funds are actively sought to support a new faculty position in Persian languages and literature, which would round out the areas of expertise currently offered.

The objectives of the centre, which doesn’t yet have a physical space, also include awarding scholarships, holding public lectures by visiting scholars, and networking with institutions and organizations throughout the world to promote Iranian culture.

The university also recently joined the International Society for Iranian Studies, a not-for-profit, non-political organization that seeks to promote high scholarship standards and to support exchanges amongst its members. “This will raise Concordia’s profile within the field,” says Foltz.

Foltz says the inspiration for the centre came from Manya Saadi-nejad, now a part-time instructor at Concordia, whom he met after he arrived in Montreal in 2005. She’d asked him why there were no Iranian studies programs in Canada.

“I remember thinking, ‘That is a good question. Maybe we can create one’,” Foltz says. “Then, as I looked around Concordia, I realized that the raw materials were already in place.” The administration supported the idea from the outset, he says, recognizing an opportunity for the university to fill a niche.

Lynda Clarke, an associate professor of religion who has been teaching at Concordia for more than a dozen years, sees the new centre as bringing together the complementary strands of the faculty’s areas of expertise — from anthropology to women’s studies, from the classical period to the Islamic.

“There are a good amount of things going in the right direction,” says Clarke, while noting the centre is still in development.

Community involvement
The Iranian community in North America is showing its support. The PARSA Community Foundation, a U.S.-based Persian philanthropic institution, gave a $75,000 endowment for a graduate scholarship, and Montreal’s Iranian community has made donations for lectures from visiting scholars, among other things.

It’s not surprising the local community is investing: many of its activities are held at the university, from the weekly discussion meetings of the Persian Literary Society of Montreal to an annual festival of Iranian films. “This is a good avenue for community engagement with the university,” Clarke notes.

Meanwhile, the university’s academic status is growing strong outside Montreal, notably in Iran itself. “My supervisor in Iran knew Richard Foltz, and encouraged me to go to Concordia,” says Azadeh Ehsani-Chombeli, a PhD candidate in religion.

She appreciates in particular the opportunities Concordia creates to hear scholars from other institutions. In 2011, for example, she went to the book launch of The Shah, a biography of Iran’s last shah by Stanford University’s Abbas Milani, and attended a lecture series on Zoroastrianism co-presented by Foltz and Jean Kellens, a renowned Avestan scholar from Collège de France in Paris.

For his part, Foltz envisions a bright future for the Centre for Iranian Studies. “We hope to see the centre recognized worldwide as one of the top centres in Iranian studies. I think that’s achievable; we’re well on our way.”

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