June 13, 2024

Mehdi Aminrazavi

The first joint program between the Asia Society and the Washington Friends of International Society for Iranian Studies was held at the Whittemore House in Washington, D.C on January 15.  Despite the frigid weather more than 40 people attended.  Guests were welcomed into the historic mansion adorned in holiday decorations by the Asia Society Cultural programmer, Szuhan Chen, and the founder of the Washington Friends of International Society for Iranian Studies (ISIS), Mona Khademi.

Asia Society is the leading global and Pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships, promote understanding and address cultural issues across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia.  They co-hosted the event for this evening with Washington Friends of International Society for Iranian Studies which was founded in 2006 to support and promote the field of Iranian Studies at the international level. ISIS, an affiliated member of the international Middle East Studies Association (MESA), is a private, not-for-profit, non-political organization of persons interested in Iranian Studies in the broadest sense.

The traditional Persian pastries and tea set an appropriate stage to introduce Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi’s book, The Wine of Wisdom; The Life, Poetry and Philosophy of Omar Khayyam. Dr. Aminrazavi is a professor of philosophy and religion and the director of the Center for Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at UMW.  His areas of specialization are medieval Islamic philosophy and theology, philosophy of religion, and non-Western philosophical and religious thought.  Dr. Aminrazavi has published 10 books and numerous articles including the five volumes of An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia and Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination. He began by providing a synopsis of Omar Khayyam’s life, his mentors and students, and moved on to offer his interpretation of The Rubaiyat.  By attempting to place Omar Khayyam in his own historical context, Aminrazavi elaborated on how the Rubaiyat can be viewed as the literature of resistance against the rise of religious orthodoxy during the Seljuk period.  Omar Khayyam lived at a time when the golden era of Islamic civilization was coming to an end and the age of philosophy, theology and rational thought and the influence of philosophers were being increasingly curtailed.  Dr. Aminrazavi made a correlation between the times in which Omar Khayyam lived and the rise of religious orthodoxy in the present day Islamic world.  He brought his remarks to an end by tracing the odyssey of Omar Khayyam and his Rubaiyat to the West through the translations of Edward Fitzgerald and the Omar Khayyam Club of America in the 1920’s.  Aminrazavi helped to stress his remarks with poetic excerpts from the Rubaiyat in both Persian and English.

The lecture was well received by a diverse audience who clearly had an appreciation and familiarity with literature and poetry.  In an interactive question and answer session, such themes as the poetic quality of Fitzgerald’s translation, the relevance of the Rubaiyat to the contemporary world and the relationship between Khayyam’s philosophical writings and his poetry among others were investigated.  The lecture was followed by a reception and book signing ceremony.

About Marty Morrison