Prof. Richard Foltz is a specialist in the history of Iran and the history of religions. He has extensively studied Islam and Zoroastrianism and teaches at the Department of Religion at Concordia University, Montréal, Canada. He holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern history from Harvard University and also has a degree in Persian language from the University of Utah.
Q: Which of the great Iranian poets fascinate you the most?
A: I admire Ferdowsi for the purity of his language, Mowlana (Rumi) for his emotional intensity, Sa’di for his wit, and Hafiz for the richness of his expression.
Q: How did the emergence of Islam contribute to the progress of science, arts and culture in Iran? We already know that people such as Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Al-Khawrizmi and Rhazes rose to prominence in the post-Islamic era. What’s your viewpoint regarding the impact of Islam on the scientific and artistic achievements of the Iranians?
A: I would put it the other way around, and say that Iranians had a major impact on the development of Islamic civilization. The academy at Gundeshapour, which was the most important academic institution in the world during Sassanid times, is a prime example of this; it simply became Islamicized after the Arab conquests. Iranians were an advanced nation before the coming of Islam and they were central to the emergence of the civilization we refer to as Islamic. The great cultural achievements of the Abbasid period were largely due to Iranians, but these ideas did not emerge suddenly out of a vacuum; they were built on ideas that already existed in the past.
Q: And finally, what’s your viewpoint regarding the contribution of Iranian artists, scientists and scholars to the international community?
A: I can say that here in Canada Iranians are statistically the second most highly educated immigrant group, after the Germans. I guess in the US the situation is similar. In most fields there exist prominent Iranians, as one would expect from such a rich and long-established culture.
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