Baber Johansen, a renowned professor of Islamic studies and expert on muslim law, has accepted a position as Professor of Islamic Studies at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS).
Johansen, who has been at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris for a decade, will assume tenure at HDS in July 2005, filling a position that has been marked by controversy in recent years.
In 2000, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pledged a $2.5 million donation to HDS to create a faculty position for Islamic studies.
The gift was later called into question, following an investigation into ties between the chair and the Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up, an institute based in Abu Dhabi that, some HDS students alleged, promoted anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism.
The center, founded in 1999, hosted some speakers that HDS students claimed placed blame on Zionists for the Holocaust and said that Israel was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
In January 2003, Dean of HDS William A. Graham responded to the students' allegations, saying he had "no intention of keeping the gift if we find that the obvious problems with the center's website do represent the donor's views—something we have no concrete evidence of at present."
In August 2003, the position was suspended and the UAE closed the Zayed Center, but in December of that year, Graham announced that the school would make an appointment in Islamic studies—financially backed by special University funding—to replace the controversial Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan Professorship.
"I am pleased to announce that we are going forward with this important appointment in Islamic religious studies, so that we can advance our mission at HDS to provide teaching and scholarship about the world's religions with the greater aim of promoting understanding and dialogue among them," Graham said at the time, adding that he hoped to find someone to fill the position as early as the 2004-2005 academic year.
Johansen, who has previously taught at Brown and Princeton, is expected to teach a course in the fall.
Thomas Professor of Divinity Leila Ahmed said Johansen specializes in "early classical Islam, particularly Fiqh, which is a kind of religious law, focusing on relations between the legal and ethical laws of Islam." According to Ahmed, Johan will compliment the role played by Graham, who is also an Islamic scholar.
In accepting his tenured spot, Johansen said that he looked forward to his time at Harvard.
"This appointment gives me the chance to cooperate with some of the leading scholars in fields closely related to Islamic religious studies and to use the resources of what may be the finest Occidental library on Islam," Johansen said. "After having been a professor in Berlin and Paris, I consider this step a big change, a great chance, and an enormous challenge. I am excited and enthusiastic about the new prospects that integration into Harvard's institutions and culture opens to me."