HDS to Pursue Islamic Appointment Using Harvard University Funds

William A. Graham, Dean of Harvard Divinity School, has announced that the Faculty of Divinity will pursue an appointment in Islamic religious studies to be supported by special University funding.

"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," said Graham. He added that the HDS Professorial Committee had authorized the search and that there is hope an appointee might be in place at the School as early as 2004-05.

The Dean's announcement comes after a decision by Harvard to place on hold a gift of $2.5 million for a chair in Islamic religious studies at the Divinity School, received in 2000 from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, president of the United Arab Emirates. That gift had been questioned in the last year because of activities undertaken by an organization in Abu Dhabi, known as the "Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow-up," that were contrary to academic values and to the express purpose of the professorship "to promote a better understanding of Islam among the non-Muslim peoples of the world and to foster dialogue among the world's great religions." In August, the United Arab Emirates announced a directive by Sheikh Zayed that closed the Center, citing activities "that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance" that the Sheikh has professed. Sheikh Zayed has been ruler of Abu Dhabi since 1966 and president of the UAE since its creation in 1971.

In announcing that HDS would proceed to search for a senior faculty member in Islamic religious studies with other funding, Graham said of the issues surrounding the Zayed funds: "From the beginning of the year, we have been extremely concerned over questions raised about the Zayed gift, and we have worked closely with colleagues in the central administration on developing an appropriate course of action for the University. I respect the range of opinions expressed during this time and want to reassure all concerned that, whatever is ultimately decided about this particular gift, the Divinity School and the University remain committed to the highest principles of religious tolerance and diversity."

Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers has underscored the importance of a professorship in Islamic religious studies, and has expressed his support for the Faculty of Divinity's plan to pursue an appointment funded by other means.

In announcing the current search, Graham emphasized the value of the field for curricular development at HDS: "This appointment is being pursued in the context of other important searches here at HDS—in Hebrew Bible, African American religion, and ethics, among other fields—all of which will result in strengthening our faculty representation in areas of study crucial to our curriculum."