UC Irvine Establishes Ferdowsi Presidential Chair in Zoroastrian Studies

The University of California at Irvine recently received a $1.5 million challenge commitment from the Massiah Foundation to establish the Ferdowsi Presidential Chair in Zoroastrian Studies.

The chair would serve as the first of its kind in the United States, according to a news release received by India-West from Maneck Bhujwala, Indian American co-founder of the Zoroastrian Association of California and the Zarthoshti Anjuman of Northern California, who regularly attends lectures at U.C. Irvine’s Persian Studies department. Indian Zoroastrians are called Parsis, he noted.

Additionally, the University of California will support the chair with up to $500,000, the release said.

The Massiah Foundation was founded by Fariborz Maseeh, an Iranian American businessman and pioneer in the field of microelectromechanical systems who lives in Newport Beach.

Maseeh has a history of making philanthropic investments in education, the arts and health-related causes through the organization.

In 2005, the Massiah Foundation funded the creation of UCI’s Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture, the first independent, interdisciplinary center focused on Iran within the U.C. system, the release noted.

The new Ferdowsi Presidential Chair in Zoroastrian Studies will be affiliated with the Jordan Center.

“We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Maseeh for establishing this new chair to expand research into Zoroastrian studies,” said UCI history professor Touraj Daryaee, the Maseeh Chair in Persian Studies and Culture and director of the Jordan Center. “The chair will enhance the already rich global historical and cultural study that takes place in the center, further raising its distinction not just at UCI but throughout the world,” Daryaee added.

The new chair is named in honor of Ferdowsi, the 10th-century Persian poet who is often credited with saving the Persian language by writing Shahnameh (Book of Kings), the national epic of Greater Iran. Maseeh hopes the chair will challenge and inspire the diasporic Parsi community – the ethnoreligious group of followers of Zoroastrianism who immigrated to the Indian subcontinent during and after the Muslim conquest of Persia – to help him revive an ancient Persian philosophy, the release said.

“By broadening UCI’s Persian studies program to include Zoroastrianism, we encourage young people to enrich their multicultural awareness – an essential component of working and living in a modern, multiethnic society,” Maseeh added.

The Jordan Center is both UCI’s dedicated hub for Persian studies and a global destination for Persian scholars. Since its inception, the center has hosted international conferences on the Iranian world and created clusters uniting researchers from a multitude of disciplines across campus.

It has also established an online, peer-reviewed journal called the Digital Archive of Brief Notes & Iran Review, the release said.

UCI students can minor in Persian Studies and take courses about ancient and modern Iran; graduate students can pursue a specialization in ancient Iran and the premodern Persianate world. The Ferdowsi Chair will be UCI’s fifth endowed chair in Persian Studies – more than any other university in the United States.

The holder of the chair – which will be supported by the Department of Classics and the Program in Religious Studies – will be a recognized expert in Zoroastrianism, followed by Indians, Pakistanis and Iranians worldwide.

“Zoroastrianism has been one of the leading religious and philosophical forces of the ancient world,” said Andromache Karanika, associate professor and chair of classics, in the release. “The establishment of the Ferdowsi Chair will enhance the understanding of antiquity and its vast legacy in today’s world and bring exciting new intersections for scholars at UCI.”

Brian T. Hervey, vice chancellor for university advancement and alumni relations, added: “Zoroastrianism represents a cultural legacy for tens of thousands of Persians, many of whom live right here in UCI’s surrounding Southern California region. Through Dr. Maseeh’s generous gift, we will grow our offerings in Persian studies and serve the public interest.”

The Massiah Foundation’s $1.5 million gift elicited an additional $500,000 from the UC Presidential Match for Endowed Chairs program, it said.

Published on India West