$10 Million Gift to Princeton U. Establishes Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies

A $10 million gift to Princeton University from two alumni will establish the Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, Princeton University announced today.

Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani have created the center to provide a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to understanding Iran and the Persian Gulf, with special attention to the region’s significance in the contemporary world.

The  New York City couple grew up in Iran before coming to the United States. Both majored in economics at Princeton and earned a certificate in the school’s Near Eastern studies program . Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani is an oil and gas executive who serves as the chairman and chief executive officer of RAK Petroleum in the United Arab Emirates and as executive chairman of Norway’s DNO International. Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani is the chief investment officer of the private wealth management group at Goldman Sachs.

“Princeton and Iran go back more than a century,” Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani said, noting that Howard C. Baskerville, Class of 1907, went to Iran as an English teacher and died fighting alongside his students in a short-lived quest for constitutional democracy. Mossavar-Rahmani said Baskerville is still revered by Iranians who remember also the Princeton connection, and the connection drew him to Princeton  University more than 40 years ago.

“Baskerville is reported to have said `the only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference’,” Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani said. “We hope that through its mission of scholarship and teaching, this center will build on the legacy of Baskerville and that of so many other Princetonians in bringing people and places closer together.”

The center’s scholars and students will explore a broad range of topics, including issues in which Iran and the Persian Gulf states play a pivotal role, such as regional and international security, oil and energy markets, and trade and global finance. Faculty members and visiting scholars will conduct research and teach courses that address the history, politics, economics and culture of the region, from ancient Persia to the modern states that border the Persian Gulf. The center also will serve as a point of outreach for the University, recruiting visiting scholars from many disciplines and supporting Iranian-American students as well as students from Iran and the Persian Gulf. It will sponsor conferences, lectures and concerts, and offer grants for faculty and student travel and study abroad.

“We are very grateful to Sharmin and Bijan for making this center possible,” Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman said in a press release about the gift. “Both as a university and as a nation, it is essential that we cultivate a fuller understanding of Iran and the other countries of the Persian Gulf, given their rich culture, geopolitical importance, and the troubled history of American-Iranian relations. As technology binds the world more closely together, we must develop the intellectual tools to match this new proximity and to foster in our students a cosmopolitan perspective. The Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies promises to make a significant contribution to this process.”

The couple’s gift is part of Aspire, the University’s five-year fundraising campaign that concluded on June 30 after raising $1.88 billion.