Iranian-Canadian scholar's commitment to non-violence garners Spanish peace prize

University of Toronto political philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo is the recipient of the 2009 Peace Prize awarded by the Association for the United Nations in Spain. The award recognizes Jahanbegloo's extensive intellectual work advancing non-violence both as a philosophy and a political strategy, supporting the ideal of universal freedom of thought, and the promotion of dialogue and building bridges between different cultures.

"I feel like it means I'm on the right path after fighting, struggling, and teaching non-violence for nearly 30 years since my first efforts as a human rights activist as a student in France," says Jahanbegloo, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, a research fellow at the Centre for Ethics, and a scholar-at-risk at Massey College.

A dual citizen of Canada and Iran, Jahanbegloo is a leading member of the Iranian intellectual movement and one of the first of that country's thinkers to have spoken of the philosophical sources of nonviolence based on the ideals of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He has contributed significantly to the understanding of western philosophy in Iran, most notably with a program of intellectual exchange and intercultural dialogue at the country's Cultural Research Bureau that brought a series of leading Indian, European and North American intellectuals to lecture there.

A member of the board of directors of PEN Canada, Jahanbegloo is the author and editor of more than 20 books in English, French and Persian, with his most recent works including The Clash of Intolerances (2007), Talking India: Conversations with Ashis Nandy (2006), Iran: Between Tradition and Modernity (2004), and Gandhi: Aux sources de la non-violence: Thoreau, Ruskin, Tolstoi (1998). He regularly addresses both scholarly and public audiences through his lectures and essays on tolerance and difference, democracy and modernity, and the dynamics of Iranian intellectual life.

First appointed in the political science department from 1997-2001, Jahanbegloo returned to U of T in 2008. In between, he held a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and appointments as head of the Department of Contemporary Thought at Iran's Cultural Research Bureau from 2001 to 2006, and as the Rajni Kothari Professor of Democracy at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in India from 2006 to 2007. In April 2006, he was detained by Iranian authorities on his way to an international conference and was held in the country's notorious Evin Prison for four months without formal charges. After significant efforts on his behalf by human rights advocates both inside and outside Iran as well as hundreds of prominent international figures, Jahanbegloo was released at the end of August 2006.

"Ramin Jahanbegloo is an exemplar of so much that Canada aspires to be," says U of T political science professor Melissa Williams, director of the Centre for Ethics. "He's a real inspiration – his presence here is a tremendous asset both for our intellectual community and our capacity to build bridges to the world beyond academe. This award is a well-deserved recognition of his career built around the concept of dialogue across ideological, religious and cultural divides."


The Association for the United Nations in Spain (ANUE) is one of over 100 members of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. Since 1980, the ANUE has awarded the Peace Prize annually to an individual with an exceptional record of promoting human rights and the advancement of the objectives of the United Nations. Past recipients include former South African president Nelson Mandela, former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev, former prime minister of Sweden Olof Palme, and South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba. Jahanbegloo will be presented with the award early in 2010, concurrently with the Spanish release of his new book La solidaridad de las diferencias, published by Arcàdia