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From Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz to Benjamin Franklin's "Parable Against Persecution:" Iran as a Source of Religious Tolerance in the West

A lecture by Richard Jeffrey Newman

In the United States, we tend to think of Iran as a place of violent oppression and religious intolerance. Yet a study of Iran's classical literature reveals in that culture a tradition of resisting oppression that would be very familiar to us today. Saadi of Shiraz, the 13th century poet whose lines about the interconnectedness of all human beings are inscribed in the Hall of Nations in New York City provides a quintessential example. When Andre du Ryer translated Saadi's Golestan into French in the 1600s, he did so because he believed Europeans needed to know about a Muslim poet whose values mirrored those of what would become the Enlightenment; and as other translators brought more of Saadi's poems into European languages, most commonly English, the values in those poems became woven into the fabric of western culture. One poem in particular, often called "God Rebukes Abraham for Harshness to a Fire-Worshipper," was eventually published by Benjamin Franklin as the "Parable Against Persecution," one of his most popular pieces of writing. (It was still being anthologized in the early 1900s.) Tracing this poem's journey to America leads us from 13th century Iran through 17th century Dutch anti-Semitism, the teachings of an important Church of England clergyman, a plagiarism scandal, the political debate surrounding the American Revolution and more. By this presentation's end, we will have explored a cultural connection between the United States and Iran of which very few are aware, discovering in the process a set of shared values between the two nations in stark contrast to the antagonism they display towards each other on the world's political stage.

This lecture is available from March 1, 2009 to October 31, 2014

Can be tailored to a high school audience

Professor Richard Jeffrey Newman

Associate Professor, Nassau Community College

Richard Jeffrey Newman is an essayist, poet and translator. Selections from Saadi's Gulistan, his first book, was published in 2004 by Global Scholarly Publications (GSP). Selections from Saadi's Bustan is forthcoming in 2006. His own book of poems, The Silence of Men, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Nassau Community College

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