Seyyed Hossein Nasr (born April 7, 1933) is an Iranian professor emeritus of Islamic studies at George Washington University and an Islamic philosopher. He is the author of scholarly books and articles. Seyyed Hossein speaks and writes based on subjects such as philosophy, religion, spirituality, music, art, architecture, science, literature, civilizational dialogues, and the natural environment. He also wrote two books of poetry (namely Poems of the Way and The Pilgrimage of Life and the Wisdom of Rumi), and has been described as a 'polymath'.
Seyyed Hossein was born to Seyyed Valiallah, who was a physician to the Persian royal family, and one of the founders of modern education in Iran. He wrote many essays which still remain in manuscript form, some of which have been assembled by Seyyed Hossein into a book called Danish wa Akhlaq (‘‘Knowledge and Ethics’’). His parents were originally from Kashan. He is a descendant of Sheikh Fazlollah Nouri.
Seyyed Hossein went to Firuz Bahram High School in Tehran before being sent to the United States for education at thirteen. In the US, Seyyed Hossein first attended Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey as the valedictorian of his class. A scholarship offered by MIT in physics made him the first Iranian undergraduate to attend that university. There, he also began studying under Giorgio de Santillana and others in various other branches such as metaphysics and philosophy. During his studies there he became acquainted with the works of the Traditionalist authority Frithjof Schuon. This school of thought has shaped Seyyed Hossein’s life and thinking ever since.
Upon his graduation from MIT, Seyyed Hossein obtained a master's degree in geology and geophysics in 1956, and went on to pursue his Ph.D. degree in the history of science and learning at Harvard University. At the age of twenty-five, Seyyed Hossein graduated with his Ph.D. from Harvard and completed his first book, Science and Civilization in Islam. His doctoral dissertation entitled "Conceptions of Nature in Islamic Thought" was published in 1964 by Harvard University Press as An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines. Apart from mastering Arabic he was initially taught in his childhood, during his student years, Seyyed Hossein also learned different languages, namely French (he could read Guénon and Schuon in the text), Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish and German (mainly to work on Hegel for his PhD thesis).
Seyyed Hossein began his teaching career in 1955 when he was still a young doctoral student at Harvard University. He became a full professor by the age of 30. After Harvard, Seyyed Hossein returned to Iran as a professor at Tehran University, and then at Arya Mehr University (Sharif University) where he was appointed president in 1972. Before that, he served as Dean of The Faculty of Letters, and Academic Vice-Chancellor of Tehran University from 1968 to 1972. Seyyed Hossein also learned Islamic philosophy from the philosophers Allameh Tabatabaei, Sayyid Abul-Hasan Qazwini and Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Assar during that period leading up to the revolution. Seyyed Hossein was appointed personal secretary to Farah Pahlavi Empress of Iran as Head of the Empress's Private Bureau. In 1974 she commissioned him to establish and lead the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, the first academic institution to be conducted in accordance with the intellectual principles of the Traditionalist School. During that time, Seyyed Hossein, Tabatabaei, William Chittick, Kenneth Morgan, Sachiko Murata, Toshihiko Izutsu, and Henry Corbin held various philosophical discourses. The book Shi'a Islam was one product of this period.
Upon his return to the west, Seyyed Hossein took up positions at University of Edinburgh, Temple University, and since 1984 has been at The George Washington University where he is now a full-time University Professor of Islamic Studies. Seyyed Hossein helped with the planning and expansion of Islamic and Iranian studies academic programs in several universities such as Princeton, the University of Utah, and the University of Southern California. He was an advisor for the award-winning, PBS-broadcast documentary Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet (2002), produced by Unity Productions Foundation.