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Peter J Chelkowski

Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

Ph.D. 1968 (Persian 1), Tehran (Iran); Postgraduate 1959-1962 (history and Islamic studies), London; M.A. 1958 (Oriental philosophy), Jagiellonian (Cracow).

Areas of Research/Interest: 

literature, mysticism, Islamic studies and performing arts of the Middle East.

External Affiliations:

Middle East Studies Association, Society for Iranian Studies, The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America.


I joined the faculty of NYU as a cultural historian of the Middle East in 1968. My academic background is an intensely multi-cultural, multi-disciplined one. I studied Oriental Philology at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow and Theater Arts in the School of Drama in the same city. After I moved to London, I studied Islamic Middle Eastern History and Culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Finally, I went to Tehran University to study Persian Literature.

While in Iran, I also worked for a charitable organization called CARE Mission. This allowed me to cover Iran to and fro to the tune of some seventy thousand miles and to meet all classes of people in the country in a practical capacity.

My teaching and writings reflect that education and experience in the field. Within the framework of Islam, whether in the area of Islamic mysticism or that of popular beliefs and rituals, my scholarly interests range from the many and varied uses of the language itself to the role of Islam in architecture and the relation of art to society.

In my graduate courses dealing with Islam in the contemporary world, I am primarily concerned with rectifying Western misconceptions of Islam both as a religion and in its various cultural forms.

My love of the performing arts further led me to the Caribbean basin, where in recent years I have been tracing a religious ritual called Hosay which began in the Shi`i Muslim Middle East and was brought to the Caribbean by East Indian indentured laborers, where it has come to co-exist with Carnival.


Golden Dozen Teaching Award, New York University, 1989, 1996; First Prize Award for Mirror of the Invisible World, American Association of University Presses; Smithsonian Folklore Studies Fellowship; Hoover Institute on War, Revolution, and Peace Fellowship; Social Science Research Council Fellowship and others.

  • Mirror of the Invisible World (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975)
  • Ta`ziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran (New York: NYU Press, 1979)
  • Studies in Art and Literature of the Near East in Honor of Richard Ettinghausen ed. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1974)
  • Staging A Revolution: The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran, co-authored with H. Dabashi, (London: Booth-Clilborn Editions, 1999)
  • "Community Process and the Performance of Muharram Observances in Trinidad" co-authored with F. Korom, The Drama Review, vol.38 (2), Summer, 1994
  • "Islam in Modern Drama and Theatre," Die Welt des Islam, Leiden, 1984
  • "Narrative Painting and Painting Recitation," Muqarnas, Leiden, 1989
Updated on 10/22/2015