The academic work of a UNC religion professor will be honored by the government of Iran.
Carl Ernst, a professor at UNC Chapel Hill, is a scholar of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. He wrote a book about a 12th-century Sufi poet that is widely used in Iranian universities, and he has traveled extensively in the Middle Eastern country.
The Raleigh News & Observer reports that Ernst will accept the Farabi International Award during a ceremony in Iran on Saturday -- but he decided to do so only after consulting the university's top leaders.
Recipients are chosen by the government ministry of science, research and technology. But the plaques are handed out by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Like most Americans, Ernst cringes at Ahmadinejad's politics.
Chancellor Holden Thorp understood the problem. Thorp said that Ernst told him that the award is an academic honor, but he knows that politics can come into play.
Ernst was in Iran for a conference earlier this month and said he received "an incredibly enthusiastic response" when he made a strong plea for improved academic and cultural relations between Iran and the United States. "So it would have looked strange if I declined an academic award," he said.
Ernst will be honored for his 1996 book on Ruzbihan Baqli, the 12th-century poet born in what is now Iran. The book has twice been translated into Persian.
Two other U.S. academics also will be honored: William Chittick, a religion scholar at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; and Miriam Galston, a lawyer at George Washington University.