Persis Karim named inaugural chair of SF State’s Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies

A smiling Persis Karim in red cardigan, seated and holding her glasses

Persis Karim  Photo: David Schmitz

Award-winning comparative literature scholar, poet to lead first-of-its-kind center exploring culture, communities, identity

San Francisco State University has named Persis Karim the inaugural Neda Nobari Distinguished Chair and director of the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, a first-of-its-kind endeavor in academia. Karim is a professor of English and comparative literature and the founding director of the Persian Studies Program at San Jose State University.

She will join SF State on August 1 as the Neda Nobari Distinguished Chair and a tenured professor in the Comparative and World Literature Department.

Karim’s groundbreaking and critical work on literature and culture of the Iranian diaspora, as well as her role in editing three anthologies of Iranian diaspora literature, have earned her broad recognition and respect in academia. She has contributed to the formation of a new field and an accompanying vocabulary for the emerging field of Iranian diaspora studies. She is invited regularly to speak on Iranian diaspora narratives, storytelling and archive building, serving to build bridges across academic and nonacademic communities and institutions.

The Bay Area native is also a poet whose work has been published in Reed Magazine, Alimentum, Caesura, Poetry Flash and other outlets.

“Persis Karim’s wealth of scholarly expertise, creativity and community engagement makes her the ideal person to take research on the Iranian diaspora to new heights,” said Andrew Harris, dean of the College of Liberal & Creative Arts at SF State. “The center is poised to help increase our understanding of not only the rich Iranian-American culture, but also of immigrant communities overall. Our students, and the community at large, will be enlightened by Professor Karim’s visionary ethos in the years to come.”

At San Jose State, Karim teaches courses in world and comparative literature, U.S. ethnic and diaspora literature, global studies, film and Middle East studies. Winner of San Jose State’s 2017 Outstanding Professor Award, she is the coordinator for the Middle East studies minor program. She joined San Jose State in 1999.

Karim earned her doctorate in comparative literature and master of arts in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Texas, Austin. She earned her bachelor of arts in community studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

At SF State, Karim will be responsible for convening academic forums and cultural programs, distinguished guest speakers and research exchanges with scholars and students locally, nationally and internationally. She will work to build collaborative relationships and programs with members of Iranian diaspora communities in the Bay Area and throughout the U.S. She is also charged with developing a strategic plan, building an advisory board and securing donations and grants.

“This center, the first of its kind, represents a bold new initiative for a field that has been gaining international recognition,” Karim said. “The center’s vision is to support and disseminate this new scholarship and to showcase the diverse and unique cultures of Iranian diaspora communities in the Bay Area, California and globally. Revolution, war, migration and the complex transnational identities that emerge from these circumstances are shared by so many other communities and cultures today. The center will draw on SF State’s strong foundation of studying ethnic, racial and social justice issues in the arts, humanities and social sciences to create opportunities for collaboration and exchange around the Iranian diaspora both in and outside the University.”

Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies

The Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies, launching this fall, establishes SF State as an academic pioneer in Iranian diaspora research. Under Karim’s leadership, the center will create a vigorous, dynamic and fresh approach to the study of and research about Iranian diaspora communities, their development, contributions to host societies and impact on Iranian identity. It will focus on transnational movements and migration patterns of Iranian communities around the globe, particularly in California, the U.S., North America and Europe. It will provide a platform for new academic programs that foster intellectual engagement with local and global Iranian communities across numerous disciplines.

The center will be based in SF State’s College of Liberal & Creative Arts.

Neda Nobari, a philanthropist and SF State graduate, endowed the Center for Iranian Diaspora Studies last year with a $5 million gift. Her donation supports both the center’s activities and the endowed chair to lead it. Nobari is the largest individual donor to SF State. She will be the keynote speaker at the University’s 116th Commencement ceremony on May 25.