Former Chair, Central Eurasian Studies
Former Chair, Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
Former Director, Middle East Program
Distinguished Professor, History
Adjunct Distinguished Professor, Religious Studies
Adjunct Distinguished Professor, Ancient Studies
Adjunct Distinguished Professor, India Studies
Adjunct Distinguished Professor, Medieval Studies
Advisory Board Chair, Center for the Languages of the Central Asia Region (Title VI Center)
Advisory Board Member, Center for the Study of the Middle East (Title VI Center)
PhD, Harvard University, 1991
BA, Columbia University, 1985
Research Interests and Professional Activities
My research covers the development of sectarian communities in Central Asia, the Near East, and South Asia studied through interdisciplinary approaches involving religious studies, history, international affairs, politics, anthropology, archeology, language, literature, and numismatics. I focus specifically on Zoroastrianism, Islam, and Manichaeism, Iranian and Persian Studies, and Indian subcontinental studies. I have conducted fieldwork in Iran, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Jordan, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka among other countries. I served as a U.S. Presidentially-nominated and U.S. Congressionally-confirmed Member of the National Council on the Humanities which oversees the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, DC. I have served on fellowship evaluation and selection committees for the American Councils for International Education, Mary Ingraham Bunting Institute of Harvard University, Canada Council for the Arts, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Center for Arabic Study Abroad of Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University, IREX, and Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I have functioned as a nominator for the MacArthur Fellows Program, been consulted by UNESCO, UNHCR, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of State, and the National Geographic Society. My analyses appear in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, World Politics Review, Real Clear World, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Christian Science Monitor, National Review, NPR, Radio Liberty, Huffington Post, and ABC News among other policy journals and news media.
Selected Awards, Fellowships, and Honorary Memberships
- Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected 2022)
- Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (2018-2019).
- U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Scholar (2013).
- United States of America National Council on the Humanities (2008–2019), overseeing the National Endowment for the Humanities, nominated by the President of the U.S. and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
- American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship (2006–2007).
- American Academy of Religion Individual Research Grant (2005–2006).
- Cosmos Club, Washington, DC (elected Member 2003–).
- Encyclopedia Iranica, Consulting Editor (2001-).
- Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford (2001–2002).
- Explorers Club, New York City (elected Fellow 2000–).
- Government of India Research Fellowship Lecturer, Bombay, India (1998).
- John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1996–1997).
- American Academy of Religion Individual Research Grant (1995–1996).
- Outstanding Junior Faculty Award, Indiana University (1995–1996).
- Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, London (elected Fellow 1994–).
- National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and Member of the School of Historical Studies, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton (1993–1994).
- Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship and Visiting Assistant Professorship, Department of History, Stanford University (1991–1993).
- Foundation for Iranian Studies Best Dissertation Award (1991–1992).
- Junior Fellow, Society of Fellows, Harvard University (1988–1991).
- American Council of Learned Societies and Social Science Research Council Travel Grant (1989).
- North American Zoroastrian Congress Scholar Excellence Award (1988).
- American Numismatic Society Fellowship (1987).
Current Doctoral Students
- Jennifer Dubeansky
- Lindsay Ruth
- Emily Stranger
Courses Recently Taught
- State and Faith in Iranian Societies: Sources, Scholarship, Research
- Prophets, Poets, and Kings: Iranian Civilization
- Introduction to the Ancient Near East
- Gender, Religion, and History: Images of Women in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Zoroastrian Cultures
- Advanced Persian: Classical Persian
- Middle Iranian Languages: Pahlavi, Parthian, Manichean
- Old Iranian Languages: Avestan, Old Persian
Gifts to a Magus: Indo-Iranian Studies Honoring Firoze Kotwal, Co-editor with J. Dubeansky (New York: 2013).
Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender, 4 vols. (New York, 2007), Associate Editor.
Evil, Good, and Gender: Facets of the Feminine in Zoroastrian Religious History (New York, 2002).
Conflict and Cooperation: Zoroastrian Subalterns and Muslim Elites in Medieval Iranian Society (New York, 1997). Translated into Persian as Setiz va Sazesh: Zartoshtiyan-e maqlub va mosalmanan-e qaleb dar jame-ye Iran-e nakhostin-i sadeha-ye Islami (Tehran, 2002).
Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism: Triumph over Evil (Austin, 1989).
“The Grotto of Inscriptions,” with M. Usman Hasan, in The Reward of the Righteous: Festschrift in Honour of Almut Hintze, eds. A. Cantera, M. Macuch, and N. Sims-Williams (Wiesbaden, 2022), pp. 111–122.
“Shokr dar āyin-e Zartosht (Thanks in Zoroastrian Custom),” in The White Ruby: Gratitude in the Intellectual Cosmos of East and West, ed. J. Mahallati (Tehran, 2022), pp. 233–240 (in Persian).
“‘No Friend of Iran’: Tehran’s Responses to the Taliban’s Return to Power in Afghanistan,” with Carol Choksy, e-International Relations (2021).
“Zoroastrian Deities in Bactria,” with Julian Kreidl, Journal of Himalayan and Central Asian Studies 25 (2021): 20–53.
“Iran Needs the Nuclear Deal to Keep Russia and China at Bay,” with Carol E. B. Choksy, Foreign Affairs (2021).
“Area Studies, Foreign Policy, and National Security,” Journal of Area Studies, second series, special issue on Area Studies Towards the 21st Century (Beijing, 2020), pp. 24–32.
“Yazd: ‘A Good and Noble City’ and an ‘Abode of Worship’,” in Cities of Medieval Iran, ed. D. Durand-Guedy, R. Mottahedeh, and J. Paul, (Leiden, 2020), pp. 217–252.
“Friendship in Pre-Islamic Iranian Writings,” in Friendship in Islamic Ethics and World Politics, ed. J. Mahallati (Ann Arbor, 2019), pp. 145–152, 306–307.
“Persian Literature of the Parsis in India,” in The History of Persian Literature, vol. 9, pt. 2, ed. J. Perry (New York, 2018), pp. 140–172.
“The Zoroastrian Creation Myth: Clues to Its Antiquity,” in Holy Wealth: Accounting for This World and the Next in Religious Belief and Practice, Iranica, vol. 24, ed. A. Hintze and A. Williams (Wiesbaden, 2017), pp. 11–20.
“Friendship in the Pahlavi Books,” in The Zoroastrian Flame: Exploring Religion, History, and Tradition, eds. A. Williams, S. Stewart, and A. Hintze (London, 2016), pp. 239–248.
“Time for a Comprehensive Strategy against Islamic Terrorism,” with Carol E. B. Choksy, Small Wars Journal 12, (2016).
“Zoroastrianism ii. Historical Review: From the Arab Conquest to Modern Times,” Encyclopaedia Iranica (New York, 2015).
“Zoroastrianism’s Religious Sites and Physical Structures,” in Wiley Blackwell Companion to the Study of Zoroastrianism, eds. M. Stausberg and Y. S.-D. Vevaina (Oxford: 2015), pp. 393–406.
“The Saudi Connection: Wahhabism and Global Jihad,” with Carol E. B. Choksy, World Affairs Journal 178 (2015): 23–34.
“Antisemitism's Permutations in the Islamic Republic of Iran” in Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, ed. A. Rosenfeld (Bloomington, 2013), pp. 337‒361.
“Non-Muslim Religious Minorities in Contemporary Iran,” Iran and the Caucasus 16, 3 (2013): 271–299.
“Sailors, Soldiers, Priests, and Merchants: Reappraising Iran’s Early Connections to Ceylon,” Iranica Antiqua 48 (2013): 363–391.
“Beware the Tyranny of the Mob: The Growing Insecurity of Religious and Ethnic Minorities,” Foreign Policy (2012).
“Zoroastrians as a Socioreligious Minority in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” in Iranian Languages and Culture, eds. M. R. Ghanoonparvar and B. Aghaei (Costa Mesa, 2012), pp. 8–37.
“Justifiable Force and Holy War in Zoroastrianism” in Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts, ed. J. Renard (Berkeley, 2012), pp. 158–176.
“Whither the Assyrian Christians of Iraq?” with Eden Naby, Real Clear World (2012).
“Friends and Friendships in Iranian Society: Human and Immortal,” Iranica Antiqua 46 (2011): 251–288.
“How Iran Persecutes Its Oldest Religion,” CNN (2011).
“Iranian Apocalypticism and Eschatology: Grappling with Change,” Journal of the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute 70 (2010): 9–40.
“The End of Christianity in the Middle East?” with Eden Naby, Foreign Policy (2010).
“Ayatollah Montazeri’s Limited Tolerance of Non-Muslims,” Huffington Post (2009).
“Ayatollah Khamenei’s Inauspicious 70th Birthday,” Huffington Post (2009).
“Iranians and Indians on the Shores of Serendib (Sri Lanka),” in Parsis in India and the Diaspora, eds. J. Hinnells and A. Williams (London, 2007), pp. 181–210.
“Reassessing the Material Contexts of Ritual Fires in Ancient Iran,” Iranica Antiqua 42 (2007): 229–269.
“Altars, Precincts, and Temples: Medieval and Modern Zoroastrian Praxis,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 44 (2006): 327–346.
“Despite Shāhs and Mollās: Minority Sociopolitics in Premodern and Modern Iran,” Journal of Asian History 40 (2006): 129–184.
“Zoroastrianism,” Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. vol. 14 (New York, 2005), pp. 9988–10008.
“Praise and Piety: Niyāyišns and Yašts in the History of Zoroastrian Praxis,” with Firoze M. Kotwal, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London) 68 (2005): 215–252.
“Ancient Iranian Ideas in a Modern Context: Aspects of Royal Legitimacy under Muhammad Riza Shah Pahlavi,” in Views from the Edge eds. N. Yavari, L. G. Potter, and J-M. R. Oppenheim (New York, 2005), pp. 45–62.
“Incorporation of Medieval Science into Zoroastrian Scripture and Exegesis: Some Evidence from Dēnkard Book 4,” in The Spirit of Wisdom, eds. T. Daryaee and M. Omidsalar (Costa Mesa, 2004), pp. 58–63.
“Women during the Transition from Sasanian to Early Islamic Times,” in Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800, eds. G. Nashat and L. Beck (Urbana, 2003), pp. 48–67.
“To Cut-Off, Purify, and Make Whole: Historiographical and Ecclesiastical Conceptions of Ritual Space,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 123 (2003): 21–41.
“Hagiography and Monotheism in History: Doctrinal Encounters between Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 14 (2003): 407–415.
“In Reverence for Deities and Submission to Kings: A Few Gestures in Ancient Near Eastern Societies,” Iranica Antiqua 37 (2002): 7–29.
“Dualism of the Feminine in Manichaeism: The Mother of Life and the Demoness of Concupiscence,” K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Third International Congress Proceedings (Bombay, 2001), pp. 301–308.
“Sarnevesht-e Zartoshtiyān-e Irān moruri tārikhi (The Fate of Iranian Zoroastrians over Time),” Iran Nameh 19 (2001): 5–6 (summary in English), 61–78 (article in Persian).
“Aging, Death, and the Afterlife in Zoroastrianism,” in How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife, 2nd ed., eds. C. J. Johnson and M. G. McGee (Philadelphia, 1998), pp. 246–263.
“Doctrinal Variation within Zoroastrianism: The Notion of Dualism,” K. R. Cama Oriental Institute Second International Congress Proceedings (Bombay, 1996), pp. 96–110.
“Muslims and Zoroastrians in Eastern Iran during the Medieval Period,” The Muslim World 80, (1990): 213–233.
“Gesture in Ancient Iran and Central Asia II: Proskynesis and the Bent Forefinger,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, new series, 4 (1990): 201–207.
“Gesture in Ancient Iran and Central Asia I: The Raised Hand,” Iranica Varia, Acta Iranica, vol. 30 (Leiden, 1990), pp. 30–37.
“A Sāsānian Monarch, His Queen, Crown Prince, and Deities: The Coinage of Wahrām II,” American Journal of Numismatics, second series, 1 (1989): 117–135.
“Sacral Kingship in Sasanian Iran,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, new series, 2 (1988): 35–52.
“Woman in the Zoroastrian Book of Primal Creation,” The Mankind Quarterly 29 (1988): 73–82.