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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Nasr wins Gittler Prize

Published: December 3, 2010
Section: Front Page

Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a world-renowned Islamic scholar in physics, philosophy and religion asked his audience to see people as one and not distinguish between the self and the other during his acceptance speech after receiving the university’s Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize Tuesday in Rapaporte Treasure Hall.

“There is a desperate attempt right now to keep the other from destroying the purity of the self,” Nasr said. “It’s an existential threat to humanity … if you go on considering the other as the enemy.”

Nasr explained that the classical philosophical distinction between the self and the other is one that has caused religious intolerance and indifference towards the environment.

A professor of Islamic Studies at The George Washington University, Nasr received the medal and $25,000 prize from university President Jehuda Reinharz, the chair of the selection committee, which reviewed 2,500 nominations from across the world.

Reinharz said that the Gittler prize goes to an individual who “has contributed to cooperation among religious groups in the broadest sense.”

“When a child is born, it does not distinguish between the self and the other,” Nasr said.

However, as individuals begin to mature, they often live concerned only about themselves, but the self grows to include family and friends and then eventually an entire nation or culture.

“Practically all of the political, cultural, moral and religious events that have taken place in human history can be understood between the interaction of the self and the other,” Nasr said.

Nasr explained that religion creates a broad self-identity, but also teaches people to “transcend the self.”

Because all civilizations are founded in religion, “relations between religion therefore has a certain priority,” Nasr said.

The Iranian-born Nasr has published more than 500 articles and 50 books, including “Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis of Modern Man,” and “Ideals and Realities of Islam.”

Nasr emphasized that there is so much people of different religions can learn from one another. Nasr, a Muslim, spoke of many of the Jewish friends he has made over the years, including Jewish professors who influenced his life.

People must realize their close connection with nature and commit to protecting it as one of their priorities, Nasr also told the audience.

“We are now facing literally a choice of life or death if we do not reevaluate the other as nature,” Nasr said. “As soon as a small or big economic crisis comes up, the environment becomes irrelevant.”

Nasr said that the greatest transformations, including the Scientific Revolution, occurred because a minority, not a majority advocated their causes.

The prize is named in honor of the late Professor Joseph B. Gittler, who taught at several universities, including Cardozo Law School, Duke, George Mason, Iowa State, the University of Rochester, Yeshiva, Hiroshima in Japan and Ben-Gurion in Israel.

Kwame Anthony Appiah was awarded the first Gittler prize in 2008.

“The great challenge of human life is to carry out the struggle in the right way and let what is good predominate over what is evil,” Nasr said.