The University of Notre Dame announced Wednesday (Jan. 21) its first ever endowed professorship in Islamic studies, established with a $3 million gift from alumna Susan Scribner Mirza of Greenwich, Connecticut.
The Mirza Family Professorship of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies also is the first endowed chair in Notre Dame’s new Keough School of Global Affairs. The school previously received a gift from Donald and Marilyn Keough to establish the school and endow the deanship, which is held by R. Scott Appleby.
“We are grateful to Sue for her generous and far-sighted support,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president. “As we seek to find ways in which religion can bind rather than divide our global community, it is critically important that we understand Islam — as a global religion and potential force for peace, as well as, sadly, an instrument by some to foment deadly violence. This gift from the Mirza family will enable us to build upon our longstanding commitment to interfaith understanding, dialogue and peace.”
Appleby called the gift “transformative,” adding: “As one of the leading interpreters of religion, Notre Dame has now positioned itself to bring to Islam the level of respect, scrutiny and engagement we typically afford to Christianity. I cannot imagine a more appropriate or exciting way to signal the Keough School’s commitment to address the pressing need to get religion right — in diplomacy, foreign relations, public policy and, most of all, in our universities and classrooms. I am deeply grateful to Sue Mirza for her decision to establish this chair and thereby to help Notre Dame realize its bold aspiration to place the understanding of religion in the service of peace and justice.”
Mirza, a member of the advisory council for Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, made the gift to continue the legacy of her late husband, Muzzafar “Muzzi” Mirza.
“My life was immeasurably enriched when I married my husband, an immigrant from Pakistan who came to this country on an academic scholarship and achieved great success both personally and professionally,” she said. “Learning about the rich culture of the Muslim society he grew up in and the Islam faith of his extended family, and sharing that with our three children, I realized quickly that despite our dramatically different upbringings — I was raised Irish Catholic in suburban New Jersey — we shared common values of the importance of family, friendship, education, generosity, humor and faith.
“Our children and I lost Muzzi way too soon. But I can think of no greater tribute to him than establishing a permanent catalyst for understanding and bridge-building between cultures and religions. And I am thrilled to be able to do so through an endowed professorship in Islamic thought and Muslim societies. I am especially proud to join the Keoughs at the birth of Notre Dame’s new School of Global Affairs. I look forward to partnering with Dean Appleby and others to advance the goals of the Keough School, of Notre Dame and, ideally, a far more universal goal of cross-cultural peace and justice.”
After graduating from Notre Dame, Sue Mirza earned a master of business administration degree from New York University and entered into a career in banking and private equity. In 2010, she endowed a student exchange program in memory of her husband as a part of Contending Modernities, a cross-cultural research and education initiative based in the Kroc Institute. The program is designed to advance Notre Dame’s programs of undergraduate education and training in the languages and cultures of Muslim-majority societies.
Mirza, along with her siblings, also established the University’s Howard A. Scribner Jr. Scholarship in memory of their father, a Notre Dame alumnus, and supported the John Darby Memorial Fellowship and the Sorin Society.
She is co-founder of the Greenwich Leadership Council of the international organization Save the Children and serves on the board of trustees of The King School and on the Cancer Advisory Council of Columbia University Medical Center.
To open in August 2017, the Keough School of Global Affairs is the first new college or school established at Notre Dame in nearly 100 years. Faculty research will focus on critical issues of international development, peace, human rights and governance. The school will offer a master’s degree in global affairs and support a range of innovative dual-degree programs and undergraduate programs to enhance students’ preparation for leadership in an increasingly interconnected world.