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Friday, December 26, 2008

UNC Religion Professor Given Award By Iran

By Cami Marshall

Chapel Hill, NC -- A University of North Carolina religion professor took pause when he learned his academic work would be honored by the government of Iran.

UNC-Chapel Hill professor Carl Ernst is a scholar of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Carl W. Ernst (born 1950) is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Islamic studies at the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.He is also the director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations.
Ernst received his A.B. in comparative religion at Stanford University in 1973, and his Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1981.

He wrote a book widely used in Iranian universities on a 12th-century Sufi poet and has traveled extensively in the Middle Eastern country. The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Ernst will accept the Farabi International Award during a ceremony in Iran on Saturday, but he decided to do so only after consulting the university's top leaders.

Ernst's recent book, Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (UNC Press, 2003), has received several international awards, including the 2004 Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement.

Recipients are chosen by the government ministry of science, research and technology. But the plaques are handed out by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Like most Americans, Ernst cringes at the president's politics.

Chancellor Holden Thorp understood the dilemma. Thorp said Ernst told him it looked like an academic honor but knew politics can come into play. Ernst was in Iran earlier this month for a conference and said he received "an incredibly enthusiastic response" when he made a strong plea for improved academic and cultural relations between Iran and the U.S. "So it would have looked strange if I declined an academic award," he said.

Ernst will be honored for his 1996 book on Ruzbihan Baqli, the 12th-century poet born in what is now Iran. The book has twice been translated into Persian.

Two other U.S. academics also will be honored: William Chittick, a religion scholar at the State University of New York at Stony Brook; and Miriam Galston, a lawyer at George Washington University.

Source : Associated Press

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