By Carl W. Ernst
Persian art, language and culture, which is identified with modern Iran and adjoining regions, is one of the most formidable cultural traditions in the world, going back more than 2,500 years to the ancient Persian empire of Cyrus the Great. Spoken by as many as 70 million people today, Persian has for centuries served as a lingua franca across much of Eurasia for subjects ranging from philosophy, science and medicine to poetry, governance and education.
Given that historical significance, it is not surprising student demand for advanced courses in Persian language and culture is high. Beginning in 2000, when Persian instruction began at UNC, and continuing through spring 2010, when the Persian Studies Program was formally organized, Carolina has sought to meet that demand. Today, UNC boasts one of the only graduate programs in Islamic studies in the United States with a strong commitment to Persian. It also offers comparative perspectives on the multiple religious traditions of Iran.
Already appealing to top graduate students worldwide, UNC’s allure will only increase thanks to the creation of Roshan Institute Fellowships for Excellence in Persian Studies. These new fellowships, made possible through Roshan Institute Fund for Excellence in Persian Studies established by a grant from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, will provide much-needed support for Carolina’s efforts to attract and retain graduate students of the highest quality. Plus, they will allow the University to increase diversity among its graduate student population by helping offset additional costs incurred by international and out-of-state students.
Through Roshan Institute Fellowships, UNC will be able to offer one or more nonrenewable “top-up” stipends to supplement standard Graduate School awards. Designed to be competitive with those offered by peer institutions, these fellowships stand to significantly enhance Carolina’s recruiting efforts. In addition, awards for summer research in Persian studies may also be offered. Such grants will enable students to advance more quickly through their PhD program by spending time on research over their summers rather than having to work.
“Graduate students are a key element of our Persian Studies Program,” notes Karen Gil, dean, College of Arts and Sciences. “These new fellowships will enable Carolina to both attract and support the next generation of Persian studies scholars, ensuring UNC continues to remain at the forefront of research and teaching about the region.”
The Persian Studies Program is supported by the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, which was founded in 2003. The center promotes an integrative understanding of languages and cultures of the Middle East, including Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew. In 2010, the center joined with the Duke University Middle East Studies Center in the Consortium for Middle East Studies at Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill, one of only 19 federally funded Middle East Centers in the U.S.
Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute supports cultural and educational activities that bring to light the richness and diversity of Persian culture. Roshan Institute operates through cooperative arrangements with other nonprofit organizations, such as schools, universities, libraries, museums and private sector donors that share its mission of support of Persian culture.
About the author:
Carl W. Ernst is William R. Kenan Jr., Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Co-Director of the Carolina Center for the Study of Middle and Muslim Civilizations