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Iranian scholar pursues research in Rome, despite pandemic

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Iranian scholar pursues research in Rome, despite pandemic

By Heather Walker

ROME — Iranian-born scholar and mother of two Dr. Halia Manteghi is carrying out research at the archives of Propaganda Fide and at the general archive of the Carmelites.

Born in 1981, Dr. Manteghi studied Spanish philology at the University of Allameh-Tabataba'i in Tehran. She then moved to Spain in 2003 to continue her studies in Spanish. Her postgraduate work in Mediterranean literature fueled her interest in Hellenistic literature, and she went on to earn her PhD in classics from the University of Exeter in England.

Currently, she works at the University of Münster in Germany as a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute for Missiology and the Study of Theologies Beyond Europe within the Faculty of Catholic Theology. Here, her focus is on a Persian theological text written by a Spanish Jesuit missionary at the Mughal court in India in the early 17th century. Once she completed the English translation of the text, the next step was to study its reception, which is what brought her to Rome.

The text, originally sent from India to Persia, was both controversial and influential. Catholic missionaries were very active at the time and the text became a manual on how to preach the Gospel among the Persians. Until then, Persian had never been a language of the church – Arabic or Syriac were used mainly in that region. As well, unlike Eastern Christianity, Roman Catholicism was unknown at the time in Persia. Dr. Manteghi said the text inspired other works, written from Muslim and Catholic perspectives, for the next two centuries.

Dr. Manteghi said Catholic missionaries, and the Jesuit missionary in particular, had an important cultural impact in India in the Mughal court. The wealth of knowledge offered by the Jesuits was warmly welcomed. Among other efforts, the Jesuit had translated many Greek words into Persian, which appealed to the renewed interest in Greek philosophy and literature at the time. However, the missionaries also faced difficulties and tensions working in an Islamic society.

She said interreligious dialogue existed in the Mughal court of the 17th century, but it was an exchange with each side wanting to prove they were right more than sharing of ideas and finding common ground.

“Now things are changing,” explained Dr. Manteghi “especially after Vatican II.”

Dr. Manteghi thinks the pope’s visit to Iraq, March 5-8, is significant for Eastern Christians after all of the suffering they have endured.

“It is very important, a turning point,” she said.

Dr. Manteghi added that her interest in foreign languages opened new worlds to her.

“If I hadn’t known Spanish, I could not have worked on my current project,” she said.

She also shared her reflection on the importance of recognizing the value of the multiplicity of cultures in the world.

“It is important to remember that all countries have their own culture, but we should not think that one is inferior to the other,” she said. “We are different — this is important — but we are also equal.”

Dr. Manteghi has passed on her interest in languages, culture and history to her teenage children, who already speak four languages fluently. Her eldest is very keen on history and wants to go to Iran to visit the historical sites. She said she hopes they will be able to travel there as soon as possible, the COVID situation permitting.

Dr. Manteghi said she looks forward to returning to her children and husband in Münster once her research is complete, but was glad to find a temporary home and an oasis in the middle of Rome at The Lay Centre. She was determined not to let the pandemic stop her in advancing with her project.

The Lay Centre welcomes visiting scholars from around the world each year. For more information, please contact: info@laycentre.org

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