Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

Focus of My Scholarship

Mohammad Jafar Amir Mahallati achieved his multidisciplinary and multicultural peace-building experience through works at the United Nations in the field of conflict resolution for a decade, teaching international relations for another decade, as well as 12 years of teaching Islamic and Peace studies at Oberlin College.

His research has focused on the ethics of peacemaking in Islam in the context of comparative religions. This central theme appears in his published and projected scholarship and also draws from his previous and present peace activism and teaching.

Within the religious framework of interpersonal and inter-communal peacemaking, Mahallati aims to contribute to various stages of this discipline including: Ethics of War (focuses on limiting the scale and scope of war and questioning its legitimacy); Ethics of Forgiveness (based on ethico-religious arguments that aim to end current wars and prevent future ones); and Ethics of Friendship (that aims to transform cold and negative to positive and friendly peace).

His research looks at cultural and religious elements in Muslim life that could be utilized in the modern international relations and produce a language that can facilitate an Islamic contribution to the current strategic peacemaking efforts in international arenas.

His monograph drawing on dissertation research Ethics of War and Peace in Iran and Shi‘i Islam (University of Toronto Press, 2016) serves the first goal; his edited volumes in Ethics of Apology and Forgiveness in Religion and Politics: A Christian and Muslim Perspective (two volumes in Persian by Negah-e Moaser, Tehran, 2017, 2019) serve the second goal; and his edited volume Friendship in Islamic Ethics and World Politics (University of Michigan Press, December 2019) serves the third.

These books are ground-breaking in both languages. They are intended for scholars and students of Islamic studies, conflict resolution, law, history, ethics, interfaith and international relations. They will also be of interest to the general public and to policymakers in the Muslim and the non-Muslim cultures.

Through interdisciplinary teaching and writing, Mahallati brings high moral and religious values such as friendship and forgiveness, from interpersonal realms to civic, interfaith and international relations. Besides his scholarly interests in religious studies, Mahallati enjoys pursuing his interests in Islamic arts and literature, specifically Sufi poetry and sacred calligraphy.

He has co-translated into English two published volumes on works of Sohrab Sepehri known as the contemporary pioneer Persian poet who promotes environmental consciousness. 

In his teaching on Islam, Mahallati deconstructs popular perceptions of this religion through an emic approach that weaves a rich tapestry of cultural religious history. His courses cover a broad historical swath and seamlessly integrate texts of impressive diversity and scope. By looking into the intricate trends of Islamic institutional development and textual interpretation in various historical contexts, he allows students to think within a tradition while also having an eye on modern critical interpretive assessments.

In his seminar courses, Mahallati covers the philosophical and conceptual foundations of lived religion and esoteric, devotional, and artistic practices and beliefs of Muslim societies. In all his courses related to applied ethics, he introduces students to his own research into the intersection between Christian and Muslim ethical discourses on just war theories, peacemaking, and theories of friendship.

Mahallati’s scholarship in ethics of friendship has resulted in the annual celebration of Friendship Day at Oberlin; a day of his founding that has garnered support on the American national scene. 

As an initiator of interdisciplinary friendship studies in America and Iran, Mahallati believes that because the contemporary world still takes war and loneliness as ‘normal,’ it is unaware of ‘the astronomical costs of unfriendship.’