Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933) is University Professor of Islamic Studies at the George Washington University. The author of over fifty books and five hundred articles, he is one of the world’s most respected writers and speakers on Islam and its mystical dimension, Sufism. His works for Teens include A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World by Kazi and he wrote the Foreword to the children’s book, The Conference of the Birds, published by Wisdom Tales (September 2012).

Nasr was born in 1933 in Tehran, Iran. Nasr’s parents, though part of the modernizing classes, were traditional in their outlook and took great care to instill into him Persian and Islamic culture. His father—a man immersed in traditional Persian culture, a professor at Tehran University, and one of the leading figures in the educational establishment—had numerous friends and acquaintances among the learned classes, many of whom are numbered among the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century.

When Nasr was thirteen in 1945 he went to the United States for high school. Nasr joined relatives in New York City and was soon enrolled in the Peddie School in New Jersey. He had exhibited his academic talents already in Iran by placing first in national examinations. At Peddie he quickly learned English and graduated four years later as valedictorian, showing exceptional gifts in mathematics and science. Expected by the Peddie establishment to move on to neighboring Princeton, he elected instead to go to MIT to study physics. In 1950 he moved to Boston. His father had died four years earlier, and his mother came from Iran with his younger brother and set up a Persian household in Arlington The years at MIT were eventful in many ways, not least because he soon underwent an intellectual and spiritual crisis. He finally decided to leave his chosen field after listening to a lecture by Bertrand Russell. From then on Nasr supplemented his scientific studies with as many humanities courses as he could manage. Given his science degree, however, he went to Harvard in the field of geology and geophysics, in which he received an MA in 1956. He then transferred to the history of science and worked with some of the world’s greatest scholars in both this field and in Islamic Studies.

After receiving his PhD, in the autumn of 1958 Nasr returned to Iran with every intention of studying with the few remaining masters of traditional Islamic wisdom. He was appointed professor at Tehran University (becoming in 1963 the youngest full professor in the university’s history). In 1968 he was appointed dean of the Faculty of Letters, and from there he moved on to become academic vice-chancellor of the university and, in 1972, chancellor of Aryamehr University (Iran’s answer to MIT).

Nasr left Iran in January of 1979 with the intention of returning in two weeks, but things happened quickly due to the overthrow of the Iran government headed by the Shah, and he found himself and his family stranded in London with no place to go. A quickly-arranged visiting professorship at the University of Utah brought him to America, followed by an appointment at Temple University, and then, from 1984, by his current position as University Professor at George Washington University.

Nasr’s years in America have been especially productive in terms of books written, lectures delivered, and students trained. He has continued his prolific output in both Islamic and traditionalist studies, with much of his effort focused on bringing to light the riches of Islamic philosophy.

–Adapted from William C. Chittick (ed.), “Introduction”, in The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2007), pp. ix-xiv.