Stargazer: Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi

At the University of Maryland, Hoda talks to students and professors about humanity's path to peace

What if you moved to a new country where you didn’t know anyone and you didn’t speak the language? That’s what Hoda Mahmoudi experienced at age 10, when she left Iran for Utah, U.S., with her family. She loved learning English and finding out about new cultures. Hoda’s interest in diversity led her to study sociology at the University of Utah. Since then, she has won honors as a college professor and dean. Now she’s the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland.

Hoda brings professors, writers, and students together to answer big questions, such as, “How can we create world peace?” She gives talks and writes about steps we can take toward peace, such as protecting human rights and ending prejudice. She encourages people to “reflect and think more about the kind of world we want to have . . .” Hoda currently lives in Washington, D.C.


Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi


Q: What’s your favorite childhood memory?

I have a brother who is six years older than me. And at our home in Tihrán, he would have his youth group meet . . . They started to enact [episodes from the Bahá’í history book] The Dawn-Breakers     . . . [such as the heroine] Tahirih removing the veil [to show her equality] . . . And I remember how exciting it was because I was . . . see[ing] these young people enacting this . . . It was just the most memorable thing in my childhood . . . [They played orchestral music in the background], and from then on, I fell in love with classical music.


Hoda moved to the U.S. in 1959, where she started
school in Utah at about age 10.


Q: What was one of the most challenging experiences for you when you were a kid, and how did you handle it?

I was almost afraid of school . . . When I came to the U.S., I was amazed at how different the school system was . . . You had boys and girls in the classroom, and I had gone to an all-girls’ school in Iran . . . I didn’t know [English]—French was my second language . . . I was put into fifth grade and told that I would pick up English. And I always had anxiety about that . . .


Q: How did you decide you wanted to be a sociologist and a professor?

At the university, the world opened up to me . . . I just fell in love with that academic environment . . . I got my masters [degree] in counseling psych[ology] . . . But sociology was more suitable to my view of the world. I was always interested . . . in other countries, other people, other cultures . . . So I got my Ph.D. in soc[iology] . . .


Q: How did your family encourage your studies and your career choice?

It was always talked about in the family, that education was very important, that we should really aim high . . . You should definitely go to graduate school. Why not consider a Ph.D.? . . . They were so encouraging . . .


Hoda (front) with her family in Iran in 1957.


Q: What do you do as the Bahá’í Chair for World Peace at the University of Maryland?

I have fun . . . What I do here is try to . . . [increase] our knowledge about the very complex topic of peace . . . I am . . . looking for those professors, academics, [or] practitioners who in their research are providing amazing solutions or . . . forecasting what is happening . . . [with] various issues, such as [the] equality of women and men, racism, the environment, the economy . . . prejudice, anything that is an impediment to peace . . . I want to invite these professors, these thinkers, to come and present their ideas . . . and then to publish these wonderful ideas . . .


The 2013 Bahá’í Chair for World Peace Annual Lecture
celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Chair. The
equality of women and men was a focus of the event.


Q: Are there certain strengths you see that kids and junior youth can use to contribute to peace?

Oh, there’s tons . . . They can be examples to their friends about how they don’t bully other children, how they embrace children from any background, culture, class . . . The manner in which they approach their education, that they are serious about doing well . . . understanding that eventually when they do [well] in school, they are going to be a very positive force in the world . . . From these small steps, big things are going to happen.


Q: What would you say to someone who thinks that war and violence are part of human nature and can’t be stopped?

I would not disagree with them. But . . . human nature has two sides. We can be quite ugly as human beings . . . We have enough examples of that. I think, equally, we have enough examples of the positive things . . . As much energy as we [put into] planning and organizing for war, if we put that much energy into planning and organizing for peace, I think it would be interesting  . . . Everyone can draw from values that . . . [make] human beings more tolerant of each other . . . more willing to do good for the common good.


Q: What is one of the biggest barriers to peace, and how can we overcome it?

‘Abdu’l-Bahá . . . said most concepts stem from prejudice . . . We have so many prejudices that we’re almost unconscious of them. Whether it’s national, class, race, gender . . . And I think wars, injustices, economic inequalities, all of these other issues stem from prejudice.


Q: Do you have any hobbies?

Classical music is my biggest . . . I make time for it. I listen to things in the car. I read about it . . . I love the arts. I used to dabble in photography, stamp collecting, wildflower collections . . . hiking every single mountain: Vail, the Wasatch mountains, skiing . . . Nature is extremely important for me.


Q:  If you had one wish for Brilliant Star readers, what would it be?

That they take the knowledge from this magazine and find ways to apply it to their daily actions.


Photos: Portrait and walking scene by John Consoli, lecture by Lisa Helfert

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