Photo of Mohammad Jafar Mahallati
  • Professor of Religion
  • Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle East and North African Studies


  • Islamic Theology: Khan Seminary (madrasa), Shiraz (1970)
  • BA, economics, National University, Tehran (1975)
  • BSc, civil engineering, University of Kansas (1978)
  • MSc, political economy, University of Oregon (Thesis Title: A Critique of Marxist Theory of Imperialism, 1980)
  • PhD, Islamic studies, McGill University (Field: History of Islamic Thought; Thesis Title: Ethics of War in Muslim Cultures: A Critical and Comparative Perspective, 2006)
  • Languages spoken: English, Persian, and Classical Arabic (fluent), French (working)


Mohammad Jafar Mahallati is the Presidential Scholar in Islamic Studies, and a tenured faculty at Department of Religion. Currently, he serves as the Nancy Schrom Dye Chair of Middle East and North African Studies (MENA).

He joined Oberlin College in 2007. Prior to Oberlin, Mahallati was a visiting professor of Trans-Regional Studies at Princeton University (1998-99) and adjunct professor of international affairs at Georgetown and Yale Universities (1998). For seven years, he was adjunct professor of international affairs at Columbia University, New York teaching graduate courses on politics, international relations, and religion (1991-97).

Early in his academic career, he was chair of the Economics Department at Kerman University in Iran, where he also taught courses on Islamic Economics and Ethics (1980-81).

His current works in progress include:

  • Friendship Studies in English, Persian, and Arabic
  • Handbook of Islamic Ethics invited by Bloomsbury of London for which he is supervising a group of international scholars who are writing in English, Arabic and Persian 

At Oberlin, he developed an innovative course with interdisciplinary approach to friendship studies and also initiated the Oberlin annual Friendship Day Festival. The festival has received wide support by the college administration, faculty, students, the Oberlin City Council and several members of the U.S. Congress. The initiative has also prompted Friendship Circle, a chartered student organization at Oberlin active since 2011. Through his publications, teachings in English and Persian, and institutional activities, Mahallati is known as the initiator of multidisciplinary friendship studies in the United States and Iran.

In addition to academia, Mahallati held several administrative positions including Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Iran to the United Nations, where he played a key role in ending the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq (1987-89).

  • Islam
  • Introduction to the Quran
  • Islamic Mystic Traditions, and Literature, Seminar
  • Politics and Religion in the Modern Middle East
  • The Ethics of Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking in Christianity and Islam
  • Introduction to Muslim Cultures and Civilizations: A Humanistic Approach
  • The Making of an Ayatollah, First-Year Seminar Program
  • Forgiveness in Christian and Islamic Traditions
  • Ethics in Islam: A Historical and Theoretical Perspective
  • Ethics of War and Peace in Muslim Cultures: A Comparative and Critical Perspective, Seminar
  • Friendship: Perspectives in Religion, Politics, Economics and Arts
  • Muslim Oral Culture: Persian Poetry in Translation, Music and Calligraphy, First-Year Seminar Program

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati achieved his multidisciplinary and multicultural peace-building experience through works at the United Nations in the field of conflict resolution for a decade, teaching international relations for another decade, as well as 12 years of teaching Islamic and Peace studies at Oberlin College.

His research has focused on the ethics of peacemaking in Islam in the context of comparative religions. This central theme appears in his published and projected scholarship and also draws from his previous and present peace activism and teaching.

Within the religious framework of interpersonal and inter-communal peacemaking, Mahallati aims to contribute to various stages of this discipline including: Ethics of War (focuses on limiting the scale and scope of war and questioning its legitimacy); Ethics of Forgiveness (based on ethico-religious arguments that aim to end current wars and prevent future ones); and Ethics of Friendship (that aims to transform cold and negative to positive and friendly peace).

His research looks at cultural and religious elements in Muslim life that could be utilized in the modern international relations and produce a language that can facilitate an Islamic contribution to the current strategic peacemaking efforts in international arenas.

His monograph drawing on dissertation research Ethics of War and Peace in Iran and Shi‘i Islam (University of Toronto Press, 2016) serves the first goal; his edited volumes in Ethics of Apology and Forgiveness in Religion and Politics: A Christian and Muslim Perspective (two volumes in Persian by Negah-e Moaser, Tehran, 2017, 2019) serve the second goal; and his edited volume Friendship in Islamic Ethics and World Politics (University of Michigan Press, December 2019) serves the third.

These books are ground-breaking in both languages. They are intended for scholars and students of Islamic studies, conflict resolution, law, history, ethics, interfaith and international relations. They will also be of interest to the general public and to policymakers in the Muslim and the non-Muslim cultures.

Through interdisciplinary teaching and writing, Mahallati brings high moral and religious values such friendship and forgiveness, from interpersonal realms to civic, interfaith and international relations. Besides his scholarly interests in religious studies, Mahallati enjoys pursuing his interests in Islamic arts and literature, specifically Sufi poetry and sacred calligraphy.

He has co-translated into English two published volumes on works of Sohrab Sepehri known as the contemporary pioneer Persian poet who promotes environmental consciousness. 

In his teaching on Islam, Mahallati deconstructs popular perceptions of this religion through an emic approach that weaves a rich tapestry of cultural religious history. His courses cover a broad historical swath and seamlessly integrate texts of impressive diversity and scope. By looking into the intricate trends of Islamic institutional development and textual interpretation in various historical contexts, he allows students to think within a tradition while also having an eye on modern critical interpretive assessments.

In his seminar courses, Mahallati covers the philosophical and conceptual foundations of lived religion and esoteric, devotional, and artistic practices and beliefs of Muslim societies. In all his courses related to applied ethics, he introduces students to his own research into the intersection between Christian and Muslim ethical discourses on just war theories, peacemaking, and theories of friendship.

Mahallati’s scholarship in ethics of friendship has resulted in the annual celebration of Friendship Day at Oberlin; a day of his founding that has garnered support on the American national scene.

As the initiator of interdisciplinary friendship studies in America and Iran, Mahallati believes that because the contemporary world still takes war and loneliness as ‘normal,’ it is unaware of ‘the astronomical costs of unfriendship.’  

English (most recent)

  • Friendship in Islamic Ethics and World Politics, edited volume, the University of Michigan Press, (December 2019).
  • Ethics of War and Peace in Modern Iran and Shi‘i Islam, Toronto University Press, 2016
  • The Oasis of Now, co-translation of Sohrab Sepehri poems from Persian (with Kazim Ali), Rochester New York: BOA Publishing, November 2013.
  • Water’s Footfall, co-translation of Sohrab Sepehri poems from Persian (with Kazim Ali), Richmond, California: Omnidawn Publishing, 2011


  • Friendship in the Intellectual Universe of East and West, edited volume, Tarh-e-Now Press, Tehran, Iran (forthcoming: Fall 2019)
  • Imam Husayn Studies for the Contemporary World, edited volume, Negah-e Moaser, Tehran, Iran (forthcoming: Fall 2019)
  • Zahra, Mah Monir and Mehrmah: Memoires of an Ayatollah’s Household, edited volume, Kavir Press, Iran (forthcoming 2019)
  • The Search for Forgiveness: Comparative Apology and Forgiveness, two edited volumes, Negah-e Moaser, Tehran, Iran, 2017 and 2018
  • Friendship as a Worldview, edited volume, Hermes Publication, Tehran, Iran, 2017. 

Articles, Book Chapters (Select-List):

English (Peer Reviewed)

  • “The Grand Ayatollah Boroujerdi,” Encyclopedia of Islam, 3rd. ed. Leiden University, Netherland
  • “Where Aristotle Met Three Iranian Ethicists: A View of Friendship as a Moral and Political Paradigm,” the Journal of Comparative Islamic Studies (forthcoming 2019)
  • “Ethics of War and Peace in Shahnameh Ferdowsi,” Journal of Iranian Studies, 48, November 6, 2015


  • “The Astronomical Costs of Unfriendship: is a Civilizational Paradigm Shift Possible?” Tarrahan-e Ideh (planners of ideas), Tehran, Iran (forthcoming, 2019)
  • “The Address of Friend’s House: Fars (Iranian Province), the Cradle of Advanced Peace,” Fars-Nameh, vol.2, No:4, summer 2019
  • “Peace in the Worldview of Sa‘di of Shiraz,” Sa‘di Shenasi, Specialized Literary Biannual Journal No. 5. Shiraz, Iran, Spring 2018
  • “Love: An Ethical Perspective (Persian),” in Ettela‘at-e Hikmat wa Ma‘rifat (monthly semi-academic periodical), Tehran, Iran: Ettela‘at Newspaper: July 2017
  • “Why Shiraz is the Peace Capital of the Muslim World,” Fars-Nameh, vol.2, No:4, spring 2017 
  • “A View of Friendship as a Socio-Political Paradigm,” in Collected Papers of National Conference: The Ethics of Peace, Forgiveness and Friendship (Persian), Shiraz: Shiraz University Press, 2016, pp. 340-359

  • Invited by Florida International University to speak on the “Role of Arts in the Three Realms of Peacemaking: Artistic Responses in an Islamic Context,” (Tuesday, March 19, 2019)
  • Panelist in a conference titled, “Reclaiming the Intellectual Primacy and Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies,” (talk title: “Promoting Religious and Cultural Heritage of Friendship to help foster Peaceful Societies”), United Nations, October 8, 2018
  • Invited for Robbins Peace Convocation Lecture at Berea College on February 22, 2018, (spoke at the convocation with 1,600 student and administration audience)
  • Lectured on “Forgiveness in Religion and Politics,” invited by Khwarazmi University, April, 2017
  • Lectured on Forgiveness in Religion and Politics, and chaired a panel, invited by Shiraz University, April, 2017
  • Lectured on ‘‘War and Peace in the Thought of Sa’di Shirazi’’ (Persian poet of 13th century) Invited by Foundation for the Study of Sa’di Shirazi, April 2017
  • Lectured on ‘‘Islam and Ethical Systems,’’ Shiraz Medical University, August 2016
  • Invited by the Center for the Study of Islamic Culture of Shiraz University to conceptualize and organize workshop series leading to national, regional, and international conference series titled the “Realm of Peace: The Ethics of War, Forgiveness and Friendship.“ Workshops and conferences starting in mid-November of 2015 and extending to 2017 are primarily designed to produce conflict-resolution and peacebuilding literatures needed for dialogue between Muslim and other cultures.
  • Lectured at Bilgi University in Istanbul, Turkey, on the “Realm of Peace: The Ethics of War, Forgiveness and Friendship.” The lectures held in October 2015 at Bilgi campus prompted student responses that are published on weblog Islamic Studies at Oberlin College. Refer to
  • Presented on Islamic Studies in America (one-day workshop, Shiraz University), November 2015
  • Presented on “Friendly Peace as a Precondition for Health” conference by Medical University of Shiraz, November 2015
  • Presented on “Three Levels of Moral Choice in the Qur’an” at a conference by the College of the Quranic Sciences at Shiraz, December 2015

  • Course development grant from Oberlin PACS to develop library sources on interdisciplinary friendship studies, spring 2018
  • Appointed as honorary faculty member in Shiraz Medical University; consultant on medical ethics studies, 2016-present
  • Received Presidential Honor from chancellor of Shiraz University for teaching a two-day workshop on the “Realm of Peace: Ethics of War, Forgiveness and Politics,” January 20, 2016
  • Received awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP) from the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The award is dedicated to the publication of the Ethics of War and Peace in Iran and Shi'i Islam (2015)
  • Received, together with James Swan Tuite, a PACS award for developing a new PACS/Religion course, RELG 276: The Ethics of Conflict Resolution and Peacekeeping in Christianity and Islam offered in spring 2013
  • Powers Travel Grant, Oberlin College, 2011
  • Ehsan Yarshater Fellow of Persian Studies, Center for Middle East Studies, Harvard University; conducted a research on Ethics of War in Muslim Cultures, a Critical and Comparative Perspective (2004-05)


  • Kazim Ali, Jafar Mahallati Nominated for Translation Award

    October 1, 2014

    The Oasis of Now, a collection of poems composed by the celebrated Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri, was selected as a finalist at Rochester International Literary Translation Initiative Award 2014. The works were translated from Persian by Kazim Ali, associate professor and director of the creative writing department, and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati, Oberlin’s presidential scholar of Islam. Oasis of Now is a nominee for the $5,000 translation award given to a book that has been translated for the first time into English.

  • Kazim Ali and Jafar Mahallati Recognized for Translation

    April 30, 2014

    Kazim Ali, associate professor of creative writing, and Jafar Mahallati, presidential scholar of Islam, were named as finalists for the Best Translated Book of Poetry given by the, University of Rochester’s Three Percent Initiative for their translation of Sohrab Sepheri’s The Oasis of Now. Mahallati presented and read from Sepehri on Wednesday April 23 at the Lakewood Public Library, while Ali will be giving a reading at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on May 11.


Those Who Can, Teach

May 20, 2020
Rania Adamczyk ’20 plots a course for India through a Fulbright teaching assistantship.