SOAS  Zoroastrian.

A statue of India’s ancient Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar permanently resides near the entrance to the School of Oriental and African Studies – SOAS – at the University of London. Shown here (l-r) are: Padma Shri recipient John Marr, Wendy Marr, Ben Murtagh and Ramaswamy Balaji, First Secretary of the Indian High Commission. In July, SOAS secured a £5 million donation to create the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies. (SOAS UK photo)

The School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London announced July 11 that it has secured a £5 million donation to create the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies.

“The donation will enable the creation of the SOAS Shapoorji Pallonji Institute of Zoroastrian Studies, a resource dedicated to enhancing the research, learning and teaching in the field of one of the world’s oldest religions,” said the SOAS in a press statement.

The 152-year-old Mumbai-based Shapoorji Pallonji Group is one of India’s most-successful corporations. Indo-Irish billionaire Pallonji Mistry headed the construction and real estate conglomerate for six decades until his son Shapoor Mistry took the reins in 2012.

The late renowned historian Mary Boyce – considered one of the pre-eminent scholars on the Zoroastrian religion – taught at SOAS from 1947 to 1982.

The institute will be co-chaired by Sarah Stewart, a lecturer in Zoroastrianism, and Almut Hintze, the Zartoshty Brothers Professor of Zoroastrianism. The donation will secure a long-term endowment for the Shapoorji Pallonji Lectureship in Zoroastrian Studies at SOAS in the Department of the Study of Religion, which will be held by Stewart.

The£5 million donation – to be paid out over three years – will also be used to create Shapoorji Pallonji scholarships in Zoroastrian Studies. The grant will also enable a wide range of public engagement.

Shapoor Mistry, chairman of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, said in a July 11 press statement released by SOAS: “Through the creation of the Institute, lectureship and scholarships, this donation will ensure that SOAS continues to develop as the world’s leading center of Zoroastrian Studies, advancing in perpetuity the understanding and appreciation of this ancient religion and its history, culture, languages and peoples.”

Baroness Valerie Amos, director of SOAS, said: “Based in London, the home of the oldest Zoroastrian diaspora community outside India and Iran, SOAS is the perfect place to be home to an Institute of Zoroastrianism.”

“Zoroastrianism has been studied at SOAS for nearly 90 years and through this donation we will be able to enhance our research and teaching in Zoroastrian studies and strengthen our relationship with the Zoroastrian community,” said the baroness.

In May, SOAS launched the Tamil Studies Campaign. Acting Director of the South Asia Institute Navtej Purewal spoke at the May 22 launch, and noted that SOAS’s aim was to “ensure this vibrant and historically-significant language is taught to new generations of students far into the future.”

A statue of the Tamil poet and philosopher Thiruvalluvar sits at the entrance of the SOAS building.

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