TEHRAN, Iran – Dr. Rob Nash, associate dean and Arnall-Mann-Thomasson Professor of Missions and World Religions at Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology, is among a group of U.S. academics participating in a conference in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 21-23, that is aimed at continuing to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic.
The conference is jointly sponsored by U.S. Academics for Peace, an organization that is independent of the U.S. government, and the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) in Tehran, which is the country's top foreign policy think tank.
"Lack of trust between the two sides has isolated Iran and prevented meaningful progress on a range of issues important for Middle Eastern and world peace. We aim to help begin the process of building bridges between U.S. and Iranian academics, as well as with Iranian officials, as a way of restoring trust, which is basic to making agreements that stick," said Dr. James Jennings, executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace and founder of the humanitarian organization Conscience International.
"This visit affords an opportunity for the academic community in the United States and in Iran to forge partnerships and engage in dialogue that can move our two countries beyond the current impasse," said Dr. Nash, adding that he "hopes the dialogue will enable Muslim and Christian scholars to find common ground in their desire for world peace."
The conference is being held in the wake of meetings at the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and others, which resulted in the signing of what is being called the First Step Agreement on Nov. 24, 2013. The first formal agreement between the U.S. and Iran in 34 years, it freezes key parts of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief of economic sanctions. Initial implementation is set to begin Jan. 20.
U.S. Academics for Peace has previously met senior Iranian leaders in Tehran, including the last two presidents, Muhammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The organization was invited on this visit by the Iranian Foreign Ministry through the Islamic Republic's ambassador to the United Nations, Muhammad Khazaee.
The group of academics, which includes experts on Islam, political science, Middle East studies Iranian studies and anthropology, will speak at several Iranian universities, drawing on past experiences in Iran as students, teachers and humanitarian aid workers. In addition to McAfee, they represent prominent U.S. universities and theological schools such as Harvard, Rutgers, Bucknell, Fuller Theological Seminary and New York Theological Seminary.