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Harvard University Library Notes / January 2006 / No. 1329
Prince Alwaleed's Gift Supports OCP Islamic Heritage Project
Harvard University has 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, and it will augment Harvard's existing strength by increasing the number of faculty focused on Islamic studies and providing additional support to graduate students.
In addition, the program will launch a $1 million initiative in the Harvard University Library (HUL), known as the Islamic Heritage Project, that will preserve and digitize historically significant Islamic materials and make the resulting images—including digitized texts of the classics of the Islamic tradition—available on 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.
"This is exactly the sort of opportunity that HUL's Open Collections Program can address," stated Sidney Verba, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library. "Through OCP, the Library has both the capacity and the track record necessary. As we implement the Islamic Heritage Project, OCP will build on its existing methods for selection, digitization, metadata enhancement, and online delivery to users everywhere."
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 preeminent 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. 600-1800 CE), particularly in the greater Middle East; and 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.
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. 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.
"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.
"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."