Stanford University's School of Humanities and Sciences announced today a gift of $2.5 million from Sohaib and Sara Abbasi to establish and endow a new Program in Islamic Studies. With matching funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation's gift to the school, the program's core endowment will total $5 million.
"The Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford will make a significant contribution to Stanford and beyond," said Stanford President John Hennessy. "Despite its growing importance in the world, Islam is poorly and inadequately understood in our country. To serve our educational mission into the 21st century, we must expand our program in Islamic studies, and this wonderful gift will help us do exactly that."
The university's goal of increasing understanding of Islam appears to be shared by students on campus. Student interest in the field has increased in recent years, and courses on Islam are consistently overenrolled.
"Our decision to endow this program at Stanford is based on a desire to see expanded opportunities for the study of Islam in Stanford's curriculum," said Sohaib Abbasi, a former executive at Oracle Corp. "We are privileged to participate in the formation of the Islamic Studies Program at Stanford that will foster a better understanding of Islam, Muslims and the Islamic civilization. We look forward to Stanford becoming one of the pre-eminent institutions for Islamic studies in North America."
Stanford University is recognized as one of the premier institutions of higher learning in the world. By significantly expanding the university's existing curriculum, the university plans to create a center of excellence in Islamic studies that will provide both a core understanding of Islam its tenets, culture and history and an understanding of the relationship of Islam to contemporary politics and society.
In addition to the establishment of the program, Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences announced the endowment of a new professorship in Islamic studies. Stanford alumna Lysbeth Warren, a member of the Humanities and Sciences Council (an advisory group for the school's academic deans), has made a gift that will be matched by funds from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to create a new faculty position in Islamic studies in the Department of Religious Studies. A search is under way to fill the position with a distinguished scholar, whose teaching and research are centered in Islamic religion but relate to other areas of culture and society, thereby forging links to other scholars and departments in the university.
"Strengthening the study of Islam is one of the highest priorities for the school," said Sharon Long, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. "With the endowment of this program and the establishment of a new professorship, our goals are to advance scholarship in this field beyond a regional context and further the understanding of Islam among some of the most outstanding students in the country, many of whom will become leaders in their professions and communities."
Elaborating on the intent to make the focus of the program global, not regional, Long noted that Islam is the dominant religious culture across a broad geographic region stretching from West Africa to Indonesia, and that it is growing in importance in Europe and North America. The new program is intended to provide students not only with a wide geopolitical lens, but also with a multidisciplinary lens that includes literature, history, politics, religion, law, sociology and anthropology.
"Islam is, of course, one of the great religious traditions, and Islamic societies have been and continue to be significant shapers of human history," said Robert Gregg, the Teresa Hihn Moore Professor in Religious Studies and inaugural director for the new program. "The importance of strengthening and expanding Stanford's educational opportunities in Islamic studies is underscored by the fact that Islam is reported to be the second largest religion in the world and one of the world's fastest growing faiths."
With the endowment of this program, Stanford is able to build on existing interdisciplinary efforts. Courses on Islamic religion and history have been offered at Stanford for many years, as has instruction in the main languages of the Muslim world. Several Stanford faculty in history and anthropology teach about parts of the Muslim world, especially the Middle East, and the university has significant library holdings, particularly the Hoover Institution's collection on the modern Middle East. Last year, Stanford also introduced a speaker series that brought leading scholars to campus for lectures and consultations.
The university is actively seeking further support for Islamic studies, including additional faculty positions. New offerings under consideration include topics such as religious history, thought and practice; the organization of Islamic societies and communities; Islamic law; the role of the Koran and other texts in shaping Islamic institutions of government, economy and education; and the changing face of Islam in the modern world, both in predominantly Islamic countries and in the countries of the West. The program will sponsor research, visiting scholars, academic conferences and public lectures.
Director of communications
School of Humanities and Sciences