Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali
Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali’s generous support of Iranian Studies expanded a vibrant U of T program into a dynamo of cross-cultural understanding.
Renowned philanthropist and scholar Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali was born in Iran, earned her PhD in linguistics at the Sorbonne in Paris, and went on to a career teaching French and linguistics at Georgetown University and the University of California at Berkeley—while spending thousands of volunteer hours translating the writings of Sufi masters from Persian to French and English. All these elements of her life inspired her to found Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute (RCHI) in 2000. Named after a Persian word meaning bright, clear, enlightened, RCHI’s mandate includes teaching and preserving Persian language and culture, nurturing future educators, and fostering peaceful cross-cultural understanding.
Through Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, Mir-Djalali gives generously to universities and cultural organizations across the globe. She has supported scholarly work focused on Iran in topics from linguistics to archaeology. She also gives generously to arts organizations and museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre and the Hermitage. Mir-Djalali was honoured for her contributions to culture in 2018 with one of France’s highest honours, the chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Mir-Djalali and RCHI began supporting the University of Toronto in 2014. She supported the Toronto Initiative for Iranian Studies, a dynamic program of course offerings and research that built on U of T Libraries’ extraordinary holdings in Persian literature. She also established the Élahe Omidyar Mir-Djalali Postdoctoral Fellowship in Iranian Linguistics. The first fellowship holder, Songül Gündoğdu, is a linguist who is advancing scholarly understanding of noun linking markers in multiple Iranian languages.
In 2020, Mir-Djalali and RCHI made an extraordinary and landmark gift of nearly $8 million to establish the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute of Iranian Studies within U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science. The interdisciplinary institute supports teaching, research and cultural activities in Iranian and Persian languages, history, politics, film, art, religion and much more.
The generous endowment supports not only a world-leading scholar, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, as the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute’s director, but also post-doctoral fellowships, dissertation completion fellowships, graduate scholarships, a research award for early-career faculty members and flexible funding for innovative research. In addition, the endowment supports academic lecture series and an annual international conference, as well as cultural programs celebrating Persian-related holidays. The Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Institute will eventually make its home in the new cultural and academic hub now under construction at 90 Queen’s Park.
Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali’s tremendous gift has greatly expanded the University’s teaching and research capabilities, creating an interdisciplinary dynamo sharing the extraordinary contributions of one of the world’s oldest civilizations.