Hossein Nasr

Sayyid Hossein Nasr (سید حسین نصر‎, born April 7, 1933) is an Iranian professor emeritus of Islamic studies at George Washington University, and an Islamic philosopher. He is the author of scholarly books and articles.

Nasr speaks and writes on subjects such as philosophy, religion, spirituality, music, art, architecture, science, literature, civilizational dialogues, and the natural environment. He has also written two books of poetry (Poems of the Way and The Pilgrimage of Life and the Wisdom of Rumi) and has been described as a “polymath“.

Hossein Nasr

Hossein Nasr



Nasr was born in 1933 in south-central Tehran to Seyyed Valiallah, who was a physician to the Persian royal family, and one of the founders of modern education in Iran. He wrote many essays which still remain in manuscript form, some of which have been assembled by Nasr into a book called Danish wa Akhlaq (‘‘Knowledge and Ethics’’). His parents were originally from Kashan. He is a descendant of Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri from his mother’s side, through him is related to the communist Noureddin Kianouri, is the cousin of Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo as well as the father of American academic Vali Nasr.


Hossein Nasr at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on October 1, 2007.

Nasr went to Firuz Bahram High School in Tehran before being sent to the United States for education at thirteen. In the US, Nasr first attended Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey, graduating in 1950 as the valedictorian of his class and also winner of the Wyclifte Award.

A scholarship offered by MIT in physics made him the first Iranian undergraduate to attend that university. There, he also began studying under Giorgio de Santillana and others in various other branches such as metaphysics and philosophy. During his studies there he became acquainted with the works of the Traditionalist authority Frithjof Schuon. This school of thought has shaped Nasr’s life and thinking ever since. Nasr had been a disciple of Frithjof Schuon for over fifty years and his works are based on the doctrine and the viewpoints of the perennial philosophy.

After receiving an MIT SB degree in physics in 1954, Nasr obtained a master’s degree in geology and geophysics in 1956, and went on to pursue his PhD degree in the history of science and learning at Harvard University. He planned to write his dissertation under the supervision of George Sarton, but Sarton died before he could begin his dissertation work and so he wrote his dissertation under the direction of I. Bernard Cohen, Hamilton Gibb, and Harry Wolfson.

At the age of twenty-five, Nasr graduated with a PhD from Harvard and completed his first book, Science and Civilization in Islam, the title being a direct tribute to Science and Civilization in China, the work by Joseph Needham which had for task to present to Westerners the complex developments of the history of science and technology in China, a mission Nasr was himself following for the Islamic civilization, “although I was working single-handedly, a twenty-five-year-old scholar, and he had a whole group working with him at Cambridge”. His doctoral dissertation entitled “Conceptions of Nature in Islamic Thought” was published in 1964 by Harvard University Press as An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines.

Apart from mastering Arabic he was initially taught in his childhood, during his student years, Nasr also learned different languages, namely French (he could read Guénon and Schuon in the text), Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish and German (mainly to work on Hegel for his PhD thesis).

Back to Iran

Nasr began his teaching career in 1955 when he was still a young doctoral student at Harvard University. He became a full professor by the age of 30.

After Harvard, Nasr returned to Iran as a professor at the University of Tehran, and then at Arya Mehr University (now Sharif University of Technology), where he was appointed president in 1972. Before that, he served as Dean of The Faculty of Letters, and Academic Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tehran from 1968 to 1972.

Nasr also learned Islamic philosophy from the philosophers Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i, Allameh Sayyed Abul Hasan Rafiee Qazvini and Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Assar during that period leading up to the revolution.

Nasr was appointed personal secretary to Farah Pahlavi, Empress of Iran, as Head of the Empress’s Private Bureau. In 1974 she commissioned him to establish and lead the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy (now the Institute for Research in Philosophy), the first academic institution to be conducted in accordance with the intellectual principles of the Traditionalist School. During that time, Nasr, Tabataba’i, William Chittick, Kenneth Morgan, Sachiko Murata, Toshihiko Izutsu, and Henry Corbin held various philosophical discourses. The book Shi’ite Islam was one product of this period.

Return to the West

Nasr in 2002

Nasr in 2002

Upon his return to the west, Nasr took up positions at University of Edinburgh, Temple University, and since 1984 has been at The George Washington University where he is now a full-time University Professor of Islamic Studies.

Nasr helped with the planning and expansion of Islamic and Iranian studies academic programs in several universities such as Princeton, the University of Utah, and the University of Southern California.

He was an advisor for the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002), produced by Unity Productions Foundation.

Awards and honors

  • In year 2000, a volume was devoted to him in the Library of Living Philosophers.
  • Templeton Religion and Science Award (1999)
  • First Muslim and first non-Western scholar to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures.
  • Honorary Doctor from the Faculty of Theology of Uppsala University, Sweden (1977)


Nasr is the author of over fifty books and five hundred articles (a number of which can be found in the journal, Studies in Comparative Religion) on topics such as Traditionalist metaphysics, Islamic science, religion and the environment, Sufism, and Islamic philosophy. He has written works in Persian, English, French, and Arabic. Listed below are most of Nasr’s works in English (in chronological order), including translations, edited volumes, and Festschriften in his honor:

As author
  • An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines: Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study by the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Biruni, and Ibn Sina (1964)
  • Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna—Suhrawardi—Ibn Arabi (1964)
  • Ideals and Realities of Islam (1966)
  • Science and Civilization in Islam, with a preface by Giorgio de Santillana (1968)
  • Islamic Studies: Essays on Law and Society, the Sciences, and Philosophy and Sufism (1967)
  • The Encounter of Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man (1968)
  • Sufi Essays (1972)
  • Islam and the Plight of Modern Man (1975)
  • Islamic Science: An Illustrated Study, with photographs by Roland Michaud (1976)
  • Sadr al-Din Shirazi and His Transcendent Theosophy: Background, Life and Works, 2nd edition (1977)
  • Knowledge and the Sacred: The Gifford Lectures,Free Download In Several Formats (1981)
  • Islamic Life and Thought (1981)
  • Islamic Art and Spirituality (1986)
  • Traditional Islam in the Modern World (1987)
  • A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World (1993)
  • The Need for a Sacred Science (1993)
  • The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, edited by Mehdi Aminrazavi (1994)
  • Muhammad: Man of God (1995)
  • Religion and the Order of Nature: The 1994 Cadbury Lectures at the University of Birmingham (1996)
  • Poems of the Way; put to music by Sami Yusuf in Songs of the Way (vol. 1) (1999)
  • Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (2001)
  • The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity (2002)Free Download
  • Islamic Philosophy from its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy (2006)
  • The Pilgrimage of Life and the Wisdom of Rumi: Poems and Translations (2007)
  • The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition (2007)
  • Islam, Science, Muslims, and Technology: Seyyed Hossein Nasr in Conversation with Muzaffar Iqbal (2007)
  • The Essential Seyyed Hossein Nasr, edited by William Chittick (2007)
  • Islam in the Modern World (2012)
As editor
  • An Annotated Bibliography of Islamic Science, edited with William Chittick and Peter Zirnis (3 vols., 1975)
  • Isma’ili Contributions to Islamic Culture (1977)
  • The Essential Frithjof Schuon (1986)
  • Shi’ism: Doctrines, Thought, and Spirituality, edited with Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr and Hamid Dabashi (1988)
  • Expectation of the Millennium: Shi’ism in History, edited with Seyyed Vali Reza Nasr and Hamid Dabashi (1989)
  • Islamic Spirituality (Vol. 1: Foundations, 1987; Vol. 2: Manifestations, 1990)
  • Religion of the Heart: Essays Presented to Frithjof Schuon on his Eightieth Birthday, edited with William Stoddart (1991)
  • In Quest of the Sacred: The Modern World in the Light of Tradition, edited with Katherine O’Brien (1994)
  • History of Islamic Philosophy, edited with Oliver Leaman (1995)
  • Mecca the Blessed, Medina the Radiant: The Holiest Cities of Islam, photographs by Kazuyoshi Nomachi; essay by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1997)
  • An Anthology of Philosophy in Persia, edited with Mehdi Aminrazavi (5 vols., 1st in 1999)
  • The Essential Sophia, edited with Katherine O’Brien (2006)
  • The Study Quran (Editor-in-Chief; Caner Dagli, Maria Dakake, and Joseph Lumbard (General editors); Mohammed Rustom (Assistant editor; 2015)
As translator
  • Shi’ite Islam by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i
  • The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations by Mulla Sadra (edited, introduced, and annotated by Ibrahim Kalin)
Works about Nasr
  • The Works of Seyyed Hossein Nasr Through His Fortieth Birthday, edited by William Chittick
  • Knowledge is Light: Essays in Honor of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, edited by Zailan Moris
  • Beacon of Knowledge – Essays in Honor of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, edited by Mohammad Faghfoory
  • Islam, Modernity, and the Human Sciences (second part of the book), by Ali Zaidi
  • Religious Pluralism in Christian and Islamic Philosophy: The Thought of John Hick and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, by Adnan Aslan
  • In Search of the Sacred with Ramin Jahanbegloo
  • From the Pen of Seyyed Hossein Nasr: A Bibliography of His Works Through His Eightieth Year, edited by Nicholas Boylston, Oludamini Ogunnaike, and Syed A.H. Zaidi
  • Islam and Modernity: Dissecting the Thought of Seyyed Hossein Nasr: A Discourse on the Compatibility or Incompatibility of Islam with Modernity (Lap Lambert Academic Publishing, 2011) by Musa Yusuf Owoyemi
  • Traditional Islamic Environmentalism: The Vision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (University Press of America, 2013) by Tarik M. Quadir

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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