The School of Oriental and African Studies – University of London.
The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has received a £1 million donation from a charitable fund set up to advance research into and public understanding of Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest living religions.
The Zoroastrian Professorship Fund, supported by private donors, will secure a long-term endowment for the Zartoshty Professorship in Zoroastrianism at SOAS in the Department of the Study of Religions.
SOAS is the first university in the world to boast an endowed professorship in Zoroastrianism.
This donation realises the vision of the late Mary Boyce, Professor of Iranian Studies at SOAS from 1947 to 1982. The acclaimed academic championed the founding of an endowed post and achieved significant recognition and support for her work from the Zoroastrian community. A part-time, later full-time, post was set up in 1997 with generous funding from Zoroastrian philanthropists Faridoon and Mehraban Zartoshty.
This new £1 million donation will be used along with the Zartoshty funds to ensure that the endowment will continue to advance the study and understanding of Zoroastrianism at SOAS in perpetuity. The donation was celebrated at a special ceremony at SOAS on Wednesday 9 February 2011 which was attended by representatives and trustees of the private donors and the current and former presidents of the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe.
“There is perhaps no place better suited for this post than SOAS,” said SOAS Director Professor Paul Webley. ”London is home to the oldest Zoroastrian diaspora community outside India and Iran, and SOAS is the world’s leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. We are delighted to strengthen our relationship with the Zoroastrian community and our long-term commitment to the study and research of this fascinating and influential religion.”
While Zoroastrianism is studied at a small number of other international universities, no other institution has an endowed chair. This gift ensures that the religion will continue to be researched and taught at SOAS in perpetuity.
Zoroastrian Studies at SOAS
Zoroastrianism has been studied at SOAS since 1929 thanks to the Parsee Community’s lectureship, held by Sir Harold Walter Bailey and Walter Bruno Henning.
Professor Mary Boyce taught Zoroastrianism from 1947 until 1982. Many other distinguished scholars of Zoroastrianism and Iranian Studies have taught at SOAS, including Professor John Hinnells from 1993 to 1998, Professor A D H Bivar from 1960 to 1993 and Professor Nicholas Sims-Williams from 1976 to 2004.
SOAS currently has two academics who specialise in Zoroastrianism: the Zartoshty Professor of Zoroastrianism Almut Hintze and Dr Sarah Stewart, a former student of Professor Boyce.
Zoroastrianism was founded by the Prophet Zarathushtra (Greek Zoroaster) in Iran approximately 3,500 years ago and has influenced other world religions, including Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has also influenced works of art and culture throughout the centuries, with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra and Mozart’s The Magic Flute among the best-known examples. The first Asian member of the UK Houses of Parliament (in 1892-95), Dadabhai Naoroji, was a Zoroastrian, as is the first Asian member of the House of Lords, Baron Karan Bilimoria CBE. Other well known Zoroastrians include the British rock star Freddie Mercury, novelist Rohinton Mistry, conductor Zubin Mehta and international industrialists and entrepreneurs including the Tata and Godrej families.