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Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal donates $20 million to support the Harvard University Islamic Studies Program

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Prince Alwaleed: ‘Bridg­ing the under­stand­ing between East and West is impor­tant for peace and tol­er­ance’

Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Gazette

Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty today (Dec. 12) announced the cre­ation of a Uni­ver­si­ty-wide pro­gram on Islam­ic stud­ies, made pos­si­ble by a $20 mil­lion gift from Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdu­laz­iz Alsaud. The new pro­gram will build on Har­vard’s strong com­mit­ment to the study of the reli­gious tra­di­tions of the world. It will also aug­ment Har­vard’s exist­ing strength by increas­ing the num­ber of fac­ul­ty focused on Islam­ic stud­ies, pro­vid­ing addi­tion­al sup­port to grad­u­ate stu­dents, and mak­ing rare Islam­ic tex­tu­al sources avail­able in dig­i­tal for­mat.

“We are very grate­ful to Prince Alwaleed for his gen­er­ous gift to Har­vard,” said Pres­i­dent Lawrence H. Sum­mers. “This pro­gram will enable us to recruit addi­tion­al fac­ul­ty of the high­est cal­iber, adding to our strong team of pro­fes­sors who are focus­ing on this impor­tant area of schol­ar­ship.”

Islam rep­re­sents one of the world’s great reli­gious and cul­tur­al tra­di­tions, one that has spread far beyond its his­tor­i­cal roots in the Mid­dle East to encom­pass diverse pop­u­la­tions and eth­nic groups in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Amer­i­ca.

“I am pleased to sup­port Islam­ic stud­ies at Har­vard and I hope that this pro­gram will enable gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents and schol­ars to gain a thor­ough under­stand­ing of Islam and its role both in the past and in today’s world,” Prince Alwaleed said. “Bridg­ing the under­stand­ing between East and West is impor­tant for peace and tol­er­ance.”

Schol­ar­ship on the Islam­ic tra­di­tion at Har­vard cur­rent­ly encom­pass­es a broad range of dis­ci­plines, from reli­gious stud­ies, his­to­ry, and law, to art and lit­er­a­ture. This gift will make it pos­si­ble to add strength in impor­tant dis­ci­plines such as the his­to­ry of sci­ence and new areas of study, such as Islam­ic Inner-Asian, South­east Asian, or South Asian stud­ies. “For a uni­ver­si­ty with glob­al aspi­ra­tions, it is crit­i­cal that Har­vard have a strong pro­gram on Islam that is world­wide and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary in scope,” said Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Provost Steven E. Hyman, who will coor­di­nate the new pro­gram’s imple­men­ta­tion.

Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty has the largest assem­blage in the Eng­lish-speak­ing world of spe­cial­ists in one or anoth­er aspect of Islam­ic tra­di­tion, includ­ing such schol­ars as Gur­ney Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry Roy P. Mot­ta­hedeh, a major Islam­ic social his­to­ri­an; Pro­fes­sor of Islam­ic Reli­gious Stud­ies Baber Johansen, a lead­ing spe­cial­ist in Islam­ic law; and Jew­ett Pro­fes­sor of Ara­bic Wolfhart Hein­richs, a pre-emi­nent lit­er­ary expert. How­ev­er, the pri­ma­ry strength of Islam­ic stud­ies at Har­vard lies both in the cov­er­age of a broad range of fields of study in the ear­ly and mid­dle peri­ods of Islam­ic his­to­ry (ca. A.D. 600‑1800), par­tic­u­lar­ly in the greater Mid­dle East, and also in the tru­ly excep­tion­al col­lec­tions of pri­ma­ry and sec­ondary sources with­in the Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty Library sys­tem. Har­vard’s capac­i­ty in non-Mid­dle East­ern and mod­ern Islam­ic stud­ies does not match its depth in tra­di­tion­al Islam­ic stud­ies, and the new gift will do much to rem­e­dy this.

In order to rep­re­sent more ful­ly the glob­al reach of Islam past and present, Har­vard wants to expand its cov­er­age of the vast field of Islam­ic stud­ies. Build­ing on exist­ing strengths, a larg­er con­cen­tra­tion of fac­ul­ty focused on Islam and an increased num­ber of the most promis­ing grad­u­ate stu­dents in this area will make Islam­ic stud­ies a more vis­i­ble and impor­tant part of the cur­ric­u­la of Har­vard’s fac­ul­ties. This will improve its cov­er­age of the his­tor­i­cal, reli­gious, and cul­tur­al aspects of Islam­ic life around the world and through­out his­to­ry.

The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islam­ic Stud­ies Pro­gram at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty will bring togeth­er fac­ul­ty, stu­dents, and researchers from across the Uni­ver­si­ty and will be housed with­in the Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ences (FAS) in close coor­di­na­tion with Har­vard Divin­i­ty School. The pro­gram will estab­lish four new fac­ul­ty posi­tions, enabling Har­vard to attract a group of addi­tion­al out­stand­ing aca­d­e­mics from a broad range of dis­ci­plines in the human­i­ties and social sci­ences. An endowed chair known as the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Pro­fes­sor in Con­tem­po­rary Islam­ic Thought and Life will be cre­at­ed, and an addi­tion­al endow­ment fund will be estab­lished to sup­port three senior pro­fes­sor­ships in oth­er areas of Islam­ic stud­ies. The pro­gram also will pro­vide sup­port for research, tuition, fees, and stipends for grad­u­ate stu­dents.

In addi­tion, the pro­gram will launch an ini­tia­tive known as the Islam­ic Her­itage Project, which will pre­serve and dig­i­tize his­tor­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant Islam­ic mate­ri­als and make vast quan­ti­ties of the result­ing images — includ­ing dig­i­tized texts of the clas­sics of the Islam­ic tra­di­tion — avail­able via the Inter­net. Among oth­er things, this ini­tia­tive will help guard against the poten­tial loss of impor­tant texts, which could be endan­gered under a vari­ety of cir­cum­stances, as demon­strat­ed by the recent trag­ic destruc­tion of man­u­scripts in Iraq and Bosnia and the neglect and dete­ri­o­ra­tion of man­u­script libraries around the world.

Cur­rent­ly, Har­vard’s Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ences offers pro­grams in Indo-Mus­lim cul­ture, Ara­bic and Islam­ic stud­ies, and Islam­ic art, and the FAS Cen­ter for Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies pub­lish­es a jour­nal on the Mid­dle East and the world of Islam. Har­vard Law School’s Islam­ic Legal Stud­ies Pro­gram advances knowl­edge and under­stand­ing of Islam­ic law. At the Design School, the Aga Khan Pro­gram for Islam­ic Archi­tec­ture pro­motes research and teach­ing on Islam­ic art, archi­tec­ture, and urban­ism. The Divin­i­ty School has been build­ing its fac­ul­ty in Islam­ic stud­ies, and since 2000 has on three occa­sions helped its stu­dents host a con­fer­ence titled “Islam in Amer­i­ca” to explore the role of Islam in the Amer­i­can con­scious­ness. As Har­vard Islam­ic reli­gion schol­ar William A. Gra­ham, who is the Mur­ray A. Albert­son Pro­fes­sor of Mid­dle East­ern Stud­ies, John Lord O’Bri­an Pro­fes­sor of Divin­i­ty, and dean of the Fac­ul­ty of Divin­i­ty, point­ed out, “The new pro­gram will build on a robust plat­form of Islam­ic stud­ies that has devel­oped over sev­er­al decades across the Uni­ver­si­ty.”

William C. Kir­by, dean of the Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ences and Edith and Ben­jamin Geisinger Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry, com­ment­ed, “As the world becomes increas­ing­ly inter­con­nect­ed, a sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of world reli­gions and cul­tures is crit­i­cal to being an edu­cat­ed per­son in the 21st cen­tu­ry.” Islam is the reli­gion of rough­ly 20 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. Mus­lims make up a major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tions in more than 30 coun­tries, and the reli­gion con­tin­ues to grow world­wide. Accord­ing­ly, stu­dent inter­est in Islam­ic stud­ies is increas­ing, sug­gest­ing a demand for expand­ed pro­gram­ming in this area. Since the Fac­ul­ty of Arts and Sci­ences launched a Core Cur­ricu­lum course titled “Under­stand­ing Islam and Con­tem­po­rary Mus­lim Soci­eties” in 1988, the course has con­sis­tent­ly drawn close to 150 stu­dents each time it has been offered.

The pro­gram’s bene­fac­tor, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal of Sau­di Ara­bia, is known for a wide range of phil­an­thropic activ­i­ties world­wide. Also today, a gift of $20 mil­lion was giv­en by Prince Alwaleed to expand the Cen­ter for Mus­lim-Chris­t­ian Under­stand­ing at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty. He also recent­ly agreed to finance the con­struc­tion of a new Islam­ic wing at the Lou­vre Muse­um in Paris, and, in 2003 Prince Alwaleed launched plans to fund con­struc­tion of 10,000 hous­ing units for poor fam­i­lies in Sau­di Ara­bia. He gave a $19 mil­lion dona­tion to South East Asi­a’s tsuna­mi vic­tims and made a SR20 mil­lio
n con­tri­bu­tion dur­ing a live tele­vised Sau­di telethon to raise relief for the Pak­istani earth­quake vic­tims in Octo­ber 2005. Prince Alwaleed addi­tion­al­ly made a $5 mil­lion dona­tion to estab­lish the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Stud­ies and Research (CASAR) at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Beirut (AUB) and donat­ed $10 mil­lion to finance the con­struc­tion of the Human­i­ties and Social Sci­ences (HUSS) build­ing at the new cam­pus of the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty in Cairo (AUC). Fur­ther, the Insti­tute of Arab and Islam­ic Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Exeter, Eng­land, received a €1 mil­lion endow­ment from the prince. Recent­ly, Prince Alwaleed gave a major gift to sup­port the Dubai Har­vard Foun­da­tion for Med­ical Research. This foun­da­tion was launched as part of a strate­gic part­ner­ship between Har­vard Med­ical School’s inter­na­tion­al arm, Har­vard Med­ical Inter­na­tion­al, and Dubai Health­care City to sup­port bio­med­ical research and aca­d­e­m­ic pro­grams that will both advance new sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge and cre­ate a region­al com­mu­ni­ty of lead­ers in sci­ence and med­i­cine.