Statement of the Award Committee 2009
Dariush Shayegan and Mohammad Khatami are two thinkers who, on a global scale, have been seminal in developing a theoretical concept of dialogue that can address the social and cultural tasks specified in the conditions of the Global Dialog Prize (GDP), and effectively promoted this concept in practical contexts. Dariush Shayegan, the founding director of the Iranian Center for the Studies of Civilizations, convened as early as in 1977 an international symposium on the “dialogue among civilizations.” The idea was further worked out by Mohammad Khatami, Iranian president between 1997 and 2005, and gained global currency after the UN accepted Khatami’s proposal and proclaimed 2001 as the ͞”Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations”. The Global Dialogue Prize (GDP) should be awarded to these two thinkers together.
Dariush Shayegan was Professor of Indology and Comparative Philosophy at Tehran University, director of the Iranian Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in Teheran, and director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in France. He is one of the leading figures in contemporary Iranian
philosophy, well-known not only for his work on Persian mysticism and mystic poetry, but also for his analyses of the cultural situation of Muslim societies. His work has also received much praise for its scholarly breadth, involving cultural experiences from China, Japan, India, and Latin America. In Shayegan͛s view, Muslim societies are caught in a “schizophrenic” mentality, glorifying
a historical tradition while on the other hand facing the realities of Western hegemony and the influence of Western modernity. The positive recommendation connected with this observation is, at the metaphysical level, the affirmation of “hybridization” and “nomadic” thinking, a liberation that results from admitting that one is living in an “entre-deux”, at a “cross-roads of several anthropological fields”. Shayegan’s notion of dialogue thus pertains primarily to a configuration of
cultural subjectivity: it is the inner dialogue of the cultural agent who “can speak in twenty tongues all at once”.
Mohammad Khatami͛s notion of a “dialogue among civilizations” is the transposition
of Shayegan’s idea into concrete political reality. However, while Shayegan used the structural model of dialogue in a new theory of cultural subjectivity, offering dialogue as a new root metaphor for the cultural self-understanding of individuals and societies, Khatami employed the dialogue model as the centerpiece of a new paradigm of international relations. Khatami famously called for a “dialogue among civilizations” in response to Samuel Huntington’s polarizing “clash of
civilizations” in an effort to institute a form of public interaction that might counteract cross-cultural misunderstandings, insecurities, violence, and inequality. While Mohammad Khatami is publicly best known for his role in Iranian domestic politics, a role that is not relevant to the GDP, and for his political efforts to decrease international tensions and support constructive interactions between ‘West’ and ‘East’, efforts that are relevant to the GDP, he is also one of Iran’s best known philosophers. His thoughts are expressed in nearly twenty published books in Persian, English, and Arabic, mainly in the field of political philosophy. In the same vein as Jayad Tabatai, he critically reflects the development of Islamic political thought after al-Farabi (950 CE).
The aims of the GDP are to honor “outstanding research on intercultural dialogue and value studies, as well as outstanding achievements in applying such research to support the global dialogue on values and to increase intercultural understanding and competence”. The concept of the “dialogue of civilizations” as developed in the work of Dariush Shayegan and
Mohammad Khatami provides an excellent illustration of the significance of comparative and intercultural philosophy for the promotion of intercultural understanding and peace.