Richard Foltz

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Richard Foltz
Richard Foltz.jpg
Nationality Canada
Alma materUniversity of Utah
Harvard University
SpouseFatima Vitalevna
Scientific career
FieldsIranian studies
Central Asian Studies
Religion and ecology
Animal rights
InstitutionsKuwait University
Brown University
Columbia University
University of Florida
Concordia University
Université de Sherbrooke

Richard Foltz (19 april 1961) is a Canadian scholar of American origin. He is a specialist in the history of Iranian civilization—what is sometimes referred to as "Greater Iran". He has also been active in the areas of environmental ethics and animal rights.


Foltz is a full professor in the Department of Religions and Cultures at Concordia University in Montréal, Canada, and an affiliate professor at the Centre d'études du religieux contemporain, Université de Sherbrooke. He holds a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History from Harvard University and 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 for several years in Europe as a musician, film critic, and travel writer. The author of twelve books and over one hundred scholarly articles, his work has appeared in more than a dozen languages.[1]

Scholarly contributions[edit]

Foltz has emphasized the role of Iranians in the spread of culture in world history, particularly in the domain of religions.[2] In contrast to widespread notions associating the Silk Road with China, he sees the premodern trans-Asian trade networks as having been driven by the activities of traders who were mostly of Iranian background, principally Sogdians but also Parthians and Persians.[3] Foltz has moreover argued that, contrary to its mostly negative portrayals in the West today, Iranian civilization continues to occupy a foundational role in the identity of many Asian peoples, analogous to the importance of Classical civilization for the West: "Most of the cultures of Asia identify with Iran on some level, much as Westerners do with Greece and Rome."[4]

In addition to religions commonly associated with Iran such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Islam and the Baháʼí Faith, Foltz's work highlights the influence of Iranian ideas on Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity. His focus encompasses Iranian civilization in the broadest sense, ranging from the Ossetes and the Kurds in the West to the Tajiks in the East. His book A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East is the first monograph on the subject to be written in any Western language,[5] as is his The Ossetes: Modern-Day Scythians of the Caucasus.[6]

Foltz's approach is syncretic, bringing together, in the words of Omid Safi, "many different bodies of scholarship which have rarely been placed side by side".[7] 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".[8]

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,[9] Foltz has questioned the environmental credentials of contemporary Muslim societies, citing fatalism and strongly pro-natalist attitudes as obstacles to an environmental ethic.[10] 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.[11] 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".[12]

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.[13] He has also written on animals in Zoroastrianism.[14]


  • The Ossetes: Modern-Day Scythians of the Caucasus, London: Bloomsbury, 2021.
  • A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East, London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
  • Iran in World History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
  • Religions of Iran: From Prehistory to the Present, London: Oneworld, 2013.
  • 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, 2006.
  • Editor, Environmentalism in the Muslim World, New York: Nova Science, 2005.
  • Spirituality in the Land of the Noble: How Iran Shaped the World's Religions, Oxford: Oneworld, 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.


  1. ^ Concordia University faculty page
  2. ^ Spirituality in the Land of the Noble, Oneworld Publications, 2004. ISBN 1-85168-333-X p. xii
  3. ^ Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of Globalization, revised 2nd edition, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ISBN 978-0-230-62125-1 p. 13
  4. ^ Cléa Desjardins, "From Zoroastrianism to Islam: taking stock of religion in Iran", Concordia Journal 12 February 2014, Retrieved 25 May 2019
  5. ^ "Interview with Richard Foltz on the history of Tajiks", Central Asian Analytical Network, 15 May 2019
  6. ^ "Canadian scientist Richard Foltz will write a book about the history and culture of Ossetia", Res, 23 January 2020.
  7. ^ Omid Safi, review of Spirituality in the Land of the Noble, MESA Bulletin 39/1, 2005, p. 92
  8. ^ Dale Bishop, review of Spirituality in the Land of the Noble, The Muslim World 94/3, 2004, p. 414
  9. ^ Jim Motavalli, "Stewards of the Earth: The Growing Religious Mission to Protect the Environment," E magazine (Nov.-Dec. 2002), pp. 32-34
  10. ^ "Islamic Environmentalism: A Matter of Interpretation," in Foltz et al., eds., Islam and Ecology, pp. 255-57
  11. ^ "Is Zoroastrianism an Ecological Religion?" Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 1/4, 2007, pp. 413-30
  12. ^ "The Religion of the Market: Reflections on a Decade of Discussion," Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion 11/2 (2007): 135-154
  13. ^ Robert Irwin, "Birds in Paradise", Times Literary Supplement, November 17, 2006. p. 30
  14. ^ "Zoroastrian Attitudes towards Animals," Society and Animals 18/4, 2010, pp. 367-78

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