Iranian Studies Memorial Statement for Franklin Lewis

Published: September 23, 2022

It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of our colleague and friend, Franklin D. Lewis, who passed away after a long illness on September 20, 2022. Professor Lewis began his study of Persian and Persian literature at the University of California at Berkeley (B.A., 1983) before joining the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago. He completed his dissertation, “Reading, Writing, and Recitation: Sanā’i and the Origins of the Persian Ghazal” in 1995, still one of the most widely cited dissertations in Persian literary studies. After serving two years as a lecturer in Persian at Chicago, Professor Lewis joined the faculty of Emory University in 1997 before returning to his alma mater in 2005. He taught courses spanning the entire history of Persian literature and served as the chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago from 2015 to 2022.

Professor Lewis was a prolific and dedicated scholar. His landmark book, Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. The Life and Teachings of Jalāl al-Din Rumi (2008), reassesses all previous research on the life of Persian’s foremost Sufi poet and skillfully navigates the complex history of the poet’s later reception around the world.  The book will serve as a touchstone for any future research on Rumi and has been translated into Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and Danish. His work, however, went beyond the mystical poets, and his many journal articles and contributions to collected volumes (in both English and Persian) offer insights into other major figures of the classical tradition, such as Ferdowsi, Sa‘di, and Hāfez. Professor Lewis was also a skilled translator of both classical poetry and modern poetry and fiction. Particularly noteworthy are his remarkable translations of selected ghazals by Rumi (Swallowing the Sun, 2008) and Zoya Pirzad’s novel Things We Left Unsaid (2012). Whether as a scholar or translator, his work stands out for its philological exactitude, sensitivity to nuance, clarity of thought, and critical insight.

Professor Lewis’ dedication to Persian studies is evident not only in his publications, but in his untiring service to the field. In addition to his long service as departmental chair, he served as the president the American Institute of Iranian Studies for fourteen years (2002-12, 2016-20), where he worked diligently to preserve and expand Iranian studies in the United States in wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He founded and managed the list server Adabiyat, which has provided an international forum for scholars of Middle Eastern literatures for more than two decades. He has edited several collections of scholarly articles, translations, and special journal issues, most recently an issue of Iranian Studies devoted to the Shāhnāmeh as World Literature (2015).

Our sincere condolences go out to his family and to his many friends and colleagues.

Statement kindly provided by Professor Losensky (Indiana University Bloomington)