Richard Foltz (b. 1961) is a Canadian scholar of American origin. He is a specialist in the history of Iran and the history of religions, particularly Islam and Zoroastrianism. He has also been active in the areas of environmental ethics and animal rights.
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A professor in the Department of Religion at Concordia University, Montréal, Canada, Foltz holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from Harvard University. He also holds degrees in Persian literature and applied linguistics from the University of Utah. He has taught at Kuwait University, Brown University, Columbia University, and the University of Florida. Prior to entering academia he worked as a musician, film critic, and travel writer.
Foltz is founder-director of the Centre for Iranian Studies at Concordia. The author of ten books and over one hundred scholarly articles, his work has appeared in more than a dozen languages. He is married to Manya Saadi-nejad, a painter and scholar of Iranian mythology.
Foltz has emphasized the role of Iranians in the spread of culture in world history, particularly in the domain of religions. In particular, he sees the Silk Road as having arisen from the travels of traders who were mostly of Iranian background.
In addition to religions commonly associated with Iran such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Islam and the Baha'i faith, Foltz's work highlights the influence of Iranian ideas on Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. His approach is syncretic, bringing together, in the words of Omid Safi, "many different bodies of scholarship which have rarely been placed side by side". Commenting on the broad sweep of Foltz's attention to Iranian civilization, a reviewer writes in The Muslim World that "No scholar, save perhaps such giants as Ehsan Yarshater and Richard Frye, can claim a depth of knowledge of traditions as diverse and covering such a wide historical span".
Apart from his work on Iranian history and civilization, Foltz has played a formative role in the emergence of a new subfield of religious studies known as religion and ecology, having edited three seminal works in this area, including two collections devoted to Islam. While sympathetic to attempts by Hossein Nasr, Fazlun Khalid and others to derive an environmental ethic from Islamic principles, Foltz has questioned the environmental credentials of contemporary Muslim societies, citing fatalism and strongly pro-natalist attitudes as obstacles to an environmental ethic. He has also challenged claims by Zoroastrians such as Farhang Mehr that Zoroastrianism is "the world's original environmentalist religion," noting that its cosmic dualism is at odds with contemporary ecological understanding which sees all species as having a vital role to play in ecosystems. Foltz has been deeply critical of global capitalism, seconding scholars such as David Loy and Harvey Cox who argue that the dominant faith system in the world today should properly be referred to as the "Religion of the Market".
Foltz has also published ground-breaking work in the related field of religion and animal rights. He is the author of the first scholarly book on Muslim attitudes towards animals, in which he re-assesses traditional Muslim views on such topics as vegetarianism and the cleanliness of dogs. He has also written on animals in Zoroastrianism.
• Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present, London: Oneworld Publications, 2013.
• (as Rahim Farsipur) Ameena: a postmodern tale of role-playing and assimilation, Amazon Kindle edition, 2011.
• Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of Globalization, revised 2nd edition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
• Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2006.
• Editor, Environmentalism in the Muslim World, New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2005.
• Spirituality in the Land of the Noble: How Iran Shaped the World's Religions, Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2004.
• Lead editor (with Frederick M. Denny and Azizan Baharuddin), Islam and Ecology: A Bestowed Trust, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
• Editor, Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Thomson, 2003.
• Mughal India and Central Asia, Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998.
• Conversations with Emperor Jahangir, translated from the Persian by Richard Foltz, Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, 1998.
In episode 6 ("Religion") of series 1 of Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle on BBC 2, British comedian Stewart Lee read from Foltz's Animals in Islamic Tradition and Muslim Cultures. Lee brought the book on stage and read the last line from "a 14 page chapter on dogs": "Long held ethical norms may bear the weight of inertia, but they're not immutable."