Campaign to Support Professorship in Islamic Studies

The University will launch a fundraising effort for an endowed faculty chair in Islamic studies at a Feb. 12 kick-off event on campus.

A delegation of supporters from Turkey will attend the public event, set for 4 p.m. in UNC’s FedEx Global Education Center.

The Kenan Rifai Distinguished Professorship of Islamic Studies in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences will be named for the late Sufi master, teacher, writer and translator, who was recognized as a prominent intellectual among his contemporaries. He encouraged the education and professional development of women in Turkey in the early 20th century, when women had been denied involvement in public life. He died in 1950 in Istanbul.

“At Carolina, we’re proud that our academic strengths include the study of diverse religions since that helps our students and the public better understand other cultures,” said UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86. “We’re grateful that our distinguished friends from Turkey are providing a new opportunity to further enhance the University’s expertise in Islamic studies.”

The UNC event will include comments from Rifai’s grandson, Kenan Gursoy, a philosophy professor and dean of the faculty of science and letters at Galatasaray University in Istanbul. He is an expert on Sufi beliefs and practices, the tradition of spirituality that is a widespread aspect of Muslim cultures. For the past three years, he has also presented an educational television program in Turkey called Climate of Thought.

Leading the fundraising effort is Cemalnur Sargut, president of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association in Istanbul. She taught chemistry in Turkey for 20 years and is a scholar of Kenan Rifai. She has invited about 20 scholars, business executives and community leaders from Turkey to attend the UNC event, held as part of a weeklong visit to the Chapel Hill campus. They will attend seminars and classes in the department of religious studies.

When fully funded by private gifts and matching funds from the N.C. Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund, the professorship will support a faculty position in UNC’s department of religious studies. The professorship will be awarded to an outstanding scholar of Islamic studies, who should also be familiar with traditions of Sufism or Islamic spirituality. The state trust fund, established in 1985 by the N.C. General Assembly, provides matching grants to recruit and retain outstanding faculty.

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