Appropriately referred to as “dean of the world’s Iranists” by other scholars, Richard
Nelson Frye established the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies. Aga Khan Professor Emeritus of Iranian Studies at Harvard University, he taught at Harvard from 1948-1990 and wrote more than twenty books and over 150 articles about ancient Iranian culture. Frye’s last book, Greater Iran: A 20th Century Odyssey, a memoir, maps the course of modern Middle Eastern Studies’ evolution at U.S. campuses. He passed on March 27, 2014 at his home.
Since the age of 12, Frye pursued his fascination with the Persian and Iranian language area ranging from Turkey to western China. A prolific traveler, he lived for long periods abroad, knew ancient languages, spoke contemporary languages of Turks, Iranians, Afghans, Tajiks, Uzbeks as well as Russian, German, and French. His parents were both Sweden-born.
Frye felt that Persian civilization was underappreciated by others, including other Muslims and Arab Muslims in particular. He spent six decades contributing to Iranian Studies and, on June 27, 2004, a ceremony was held in Iran to pay tribute to Frye’s contribution to the history and culture of Iran.
One important aspect of his contribution was Frye’s belief that inter-cultural dialogue was necessary not only for Americans to understand Iran but also for Iranians to better understand America. To help this cultural exchange, he invited Iranians intellectuals to Harvard, including Mehdi Haeri Yazdi, Jalal Al-e Ahmed, and Sadeq Choubak. And he himself taught for six years in Shiraz, from 1970-1976.
Now, upon his death, as per his final request, he will be buried next to the Zayandeh River in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Frye’s contributions to Iranian culture are so great that even conservative President Ahmadinejad approved this final resting spot of the great hero and “Iran-doost” (meaning, “a friend of Iran”), as the prominent Iranian linguist Ali Akbar Dehkhoda aptly titled Frye.
Just as he had hoped to unify the two countries with his life’s work, now he continues that mission with his burial in Isfahan.
It should be noted that Frye courageously persisted in his final request even when American media pundits criticized him, saying he was legitimizing the brutal regime of Ayatollahs. In a CNN interview before his death, Frye responded to this criticism by once again proving himself to be a fair man, one who not only loves America but also Iran. He said, “[Iranians] are very hospitable people. I love them very much. There is no reason why I wouldn’t be buried in Isfahan.”
The world needs more men like Professor Frye. His death is truly a great loss to humanity. Senses Cultural is grateful to Frye and his important work. We feel deeply that he exemplifies best our own mission to unite cultures and peoples.
As the distinguished professor himself said, “…My message to future generations is to guard one’s individuality and humanity while controlling the technology which is changing one’s life. While we must respect and preserve the various cultures in the world, or at least the worthwhile parts of a culture, at the same time one should reject the concept of a clash of civilizations. … Just as the genes of all people are almost 99% the same, so people all over the world have the same aspirations and problems, and their differences are basically cultural [and these differences] ought to be respected.”
The best way to honor Frye’s life achievements is for all of us to see past our superficial differences in pursuit of more meaningful connections with one another where we not only cherish our individual cultures and identities but also those of others.