Mohammad Jafar Mahallati

  • Professor of Religion
  • Nancy Schrom Dye Chair in Middle East and North African Studies

Education

  • 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)

Biography

Mohammad Jafar Mahallati is Professor of Religion 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 peacemaking, international relations, and religion (1991-97).

Early in his academic career, he was chair of the Economics Department at Kerman University in Iran (1980-81).

His current work in progress include:

  • Friendship and Peace 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 innovative courses with interdisciplinary approach to friendship and forgiveness 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.

In addition to academic activities, 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
  • Forgiveness in Christian and Islamic Traditions, Seminar
  • 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 14 years of teaching Islamic, Peace and Friendship 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 many 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 the Middle East, Mahallati believes that because the contemporary world still takes war and loneliness as ‘normal,’ it is unaware of ‘the astronomical costs of unfriendship.’

English

  • 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

Arabic and Persian

  • Friendship as a Worldview, edited volume, Kanz and Tawasin Publications, Beirut, Lebanon, 2021. 
  • Friendship in the Intellectual Universe of East and West, edited volume, Tarh-e-Now Press, Tehran, Iran, 2021
  • Imam Husayn Studies for the Contemporary World, edited volumes, Negah-e Moaser, Tehran, Iran, 2019, 2020, 2021
  • Zahra, Mah Monir and Mehrmah: Memoires of an Ayatollah’s Household, edited volume, Kavir Press, Iran, 2020
  • The Search for ForgivenessComparative 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, (Peer Reviewed Select List):

  • “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

  • “Role of Arts in the Three Realms of Peacemaking: Artistic Responses in an Islamic Context,” Florida International University, March 19, 2019
  • “Promoting Religious and Cultural Heritage of Friendship to help foster Peaceful Societies,” United Nations, October 8, 2018
  • Robbins Peace Convocation Lecture at Berea College, February 22, 2018
  • “Realm of Peace: The Ethics of War, Forgiveness and Friendship,” Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey, October 2015

  • Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies award for course development in friendship studies, Oberlin College, 2018
  • Awards to Scholarly Publications Program (ASPP), the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, 2015
  • Peace and Conflict Resolution Studies award for course development, Oberlin College, 2013
  • Powers Travel Grant, Oberlin College, 2011
  • Ehsan Yarshater Fellow of Persian Studies, Center for Middle East Studies, Harvard University, 2004-2005

Fall 2021

Muslim Oral Culture: Persian Poetry in Translation, Music and Calligraphy — FYSP 191
Islam — RELG 270
Forgiveness in the Islamic and Christian Traditions — RELG 390

Spring 2022

Introduction to the Qur'an — RELG 272
Friendship: Perspectives from Religion, Politics, Economics, and Art — RELG 274

Notes

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.

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