M. Jafar Amir Mahallati: The Focus of My Scholarship

I am coming from three diplomatic and teaching backgrounds: about a decade of working with the United Nations in the field of Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking, a decade of teaching on International Relations and a decade of teaching Islamic Studies at Oberlin College.

Drawing on all the above experiences, my research focus has been primarily Ethics of Peacemaking in Islam in the frame of comparative religions. This central theme appears in most of my published and projected scholarship and also draws from my previous and present teaching. Working with the religious framework of interpersonal and inter-communal peacemaking, I aim to make a scholarly contribution that can help various stages of this discipline including: a) Ethics of War (that aims at limiting the scale and scope of war and questions its legitimacy); Ethics of Forgiveness (based on ethico-religious arguments that aim to end current wars and prevent future ones); and Ethics of Friendship (that aims to transfer cold and negative peace to positive and friendly peace).

My monograph on Ethics of War and Peace in Iran and Shi‘i Islam serves the first goal; my edited volumes in English and Persian languages on Rethinking Friendship in Muslim Cultures and Modern Politics with my substantial contribution to both serve the third; and my future project, Ethics of Apology and Forgiveness in Politics: A Christian and Muslim Perspective serves the second goal. Even my co-published Persian poetry translations serve the same purpose because Sohrab Sepehri is the most influential poetic voice in modern Iran who speaks about peace with Mother Nature and the need for friendly treatment of the environment.

My published articles on Juvayni and Dream Interpretation also do not fall out of the above realm. In my article on Juvayni, I argue how, in the view of an Iranian medieval historian, the Mongol enemy is not fully evil, which renders the concept of the total or absolute enemy irrelevant. In my article on Dream interpretation, I have tried to demonstrate the presence of romance in scripture and how two mystic exegetes tried to build upon it. This literature, in effect, counters violence-laden interpretations of scripture that can produce religious extremism.

In all above projects and through inter-disciplinary approaches, I am bringing high religious and moral values such as friendship, forgiveness, magnanimity, and sense of charity from interpersonal realms to civic, interfaith, and international relations. This is well reflected also in all my teaching including specifically in my co-teaching of the seminar course RELG 390 – Forgiveness in Christian and Islamic Traditions (offered in spring of 2012), my teaching of RELG 276 – The Ethics of Conflict Resolution and Peace-Making in Christianity and Islam (offered in spring of 2013, and 2015), RELG 373- Islamic Mystic Traditions and Literature (taught regularly every fall at Oberlin College) and Ethics of War in Muslim Cultures: A Comparative and Critical Perspective, Seminar (offered in spring of 2008).

During preparation for the above courses and searching for relevant syllabus materials, I noticed that the academic approach to ethics of peacemaking with applications in international relations is fairly new with limited related scholarship in various religious traditions. I noticed also that the above limitation is specifically manifest in Islamic Studies. Whatever readings available in English language in this regard are inadequate for course offerings, including my own. These direct academic experiences together with being a close witness to a couple of international conflict-resolution processes, such as peace initiatives related to Iran-Iraq war and US-Iran relations, prompted me to focus on peacemaking and friendship-making with the hope to fill an academic gap.