The grant will fund a professorship in Iranian linguistics and graduate student fellowships in Persian and Iranian studies.
A $2.5 million charitable grant to the University of Arizona from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute will advance scholarship in Persian and Iranian studies and support an endowed professorship and graduate student fellowships.
A portion of the grant – which comes from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Fund, a donor-advised fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation – will establish the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professorship in Iranian Linguistics. The remaining $1 million will fund the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Graduate Fellowships in Persian and Iranian Studies. The professorship and fellowships are both endowed and will permanently support faculty and graduate students in these areas.
The professorship and fellowships are named for the founder and chair of Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, a private foundation focused on preservation, transmission and instruction of Persian language and culture.
"The study of languages and cultures is vital to understanding the rich diversity of an increasingly globalized world, " said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "I am incredibly grateful that Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute has once again invested in the University of Arizona, helping us to build a world-class program in Persian and Iranian studies, advance critical research, and train the next generation of scholars."
Over the past 20 years, Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute has invested $6.35 million at UArizona. It has supported the creation of the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies, housed in the Graduate College, as well as graduate fellowships and four endowed faculty positions.
"During my time as dean, I have witnessed how grants from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute have elevated the stature and impact of the university's strong Persian and Iranian studies program," said John Paul Jones III, who is completing his 12-year term as the Don Bennett Moon dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences this month. "By supporting both faculty and students, this transformative new grant places the University of Arizona in the top tier of universities in Persian and Iranian studies. I am deeply grateful to Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute and Dr. Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali for their vision and generosity."
Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute founder Mir-Djalali, who was born in Iran, is a renowned linguist and expert in language education, cross-cultural communication and Persian studies. Mir-Djalali received a doctorate in linguistics from Paris-Sorbonne University.
“We are delighted to once again partner with the University of Arizona and strengthen our support through the establishment of this new endowed professorship in linguistics and for graduate student fellowships,” said Mir-Djalali. “This endowment will foster and fortify the graduate study of Persian and Iranian languages and linguistics and would place the university’s Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program as one of the largest and most prominent Persian programs in the U.S. I personally am proud to have witnessed all the great work this university has contributed over the years to promote and preserve Persian language and culture and look forward to the impact it will have on future generations of faculty and students for years to come.”
“Support from organizations like Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute are vital to the university’s research enterprise,” said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. “Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute has steadily invested in the University of Arizona program for 20 years, establishing endowments that enabled it to grow in stature and will sustain it for decades to come.”
Studying Iranian Languages
The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professorship in Iranian Linguistics, which will be housed in the Department of Linguistics in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, will initially be held by Linguistics Professor Simin Karimi, who specializes in theoretical syntax and who researches the syntax and morphology of various Iranian languages. Karimi also leads the National Science Foundation-supported Iranian Linguistics Research Group, consisting of faculty members and students at UArizona studying linguistic properties of Iranian languages, including Balochi, Ossetian, Pashto, Persian and Sorani-Kurdish.
Karimi says that most Iranian languages are understudied but exhibit complex properties that can provide a better understanding of the nature of human language. Karimi plans to use money from the professorship to hire a postdoctoral researcher to collaborate with on research projects involving Iranian linguistics.
“The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professorship in Iranian Linguistics is an invaluable gift that will enable us to continue the work that our research group started in 2015,” said Karimi. “We will be able to carry on with the descriptive and theoretical analysis of significant aspects of languages that have been, for the most part, untouched by linguists around the globe. I cannot be more grateful to be the recipient of this professorship.”
The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Graduate Fellowships in Persian and Iranian Studies are intended to help UArizona recruit and retain the best doctoral students focusing on Persian and Iranian studies. Training the next generation of Persian studies specialists is a priority for Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.
The new endowment will be housed in the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies, or Roshan GIDP, in the Graduate College. The Roshan GIDP offers graduate degrees focusing on modern or classical Persian literature and culture as well as the history, religion, social organization, and politics of Iran and other Persian-speaking societies. The program benefits from the long tradition of Persian and Iranian studies in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
"Graduate training in this field is important because the Persian world is one of the oldest world civilizations with a rich history of arts, literature, philosophy and science. And today, whether the current rulers in Iran open the country to the free world or not, that country remains a significant player in the region, with global ramifications,” said Kamran Talattof, the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Chair in Persian and Iranian Studies, professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, and the founding chair of the Roshan GIDP.
Established in 2003, the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute Graduate Fellowship in Persian and Iranian Studies endowment will be combined with the new fellowship endowment and renamed.
The endowment will fund up to two graduate fellowships annually as part of a competitive multi-year funding package for doctoral students. To be eligible, students must be enrolled in the Roshan GIDP Ph.D. program or in the Linguistics Ph.D. program studying Iranian linguistics.
“The Elahé Omidyar Mir Djalali Graduate Fellowships provide a unique opportunity for recruiting and retaining the best students and the future leaders in this discipline,” said Andrew Carnie, vice provost for graduate education, dean of the Graduate College, and professor in the Department of Linguistics. “The investments from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute have resulted in the University of Arizona becoming one of the most important Persian/Iranian Studies Ph.D. program in the nation and a place that graduate students interested in Iranian cultures, languages and linguistics flock to.”
A History of Giving
Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute supports educational and cultural activities that promote the understanding, transmission and instruction of Persian language and culture. Founded in 2000, the institute has awarded millions of dollars in grants to establish or strengthen academic Persian programs at some of the most prestigious universities in the world.
This $2.5 million grant is the fourth major grant from Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute to the University of Arizona. In 2003, the institute created a $300,000 endowed fellowship fund in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies. A $2 million grant in 2016 established the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies, which included funding for an endowed faculty chair, held by Talattof, and an endowed professorship, held by Austin O’Malley. And in 2018, the institute gave a $1 million grant to establish the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Professor of Persian Language, held by Narges Nematollahi. The institute has also given several cash awards to fund graduate student dissertation research and support the Second North American Conference in Iranian Linguistics.