Ansari family’s $15 million gift to Notre Dame aims to unite global religions
Rafat and Zoreen Ansari, both medical doctors, and their adult children are making the contribution to create the Rafat and Zoreen Ansari Institute for Global Engagement With Religion. Their goal is to foster better understanding of religion, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity, with the belief that all religions should be treated with equal respect.
Mr. Ansari said that when he was approached by the university for a gift, he looked to the school as a natural steward for the institute.
“This extraordinary gift from an esteemed local Muslim family, longtime friends of Notre Dame, will allow us to bring together scholars of the first order to foster dialogue and deepen understanding. We are immensely grateful to the Ansaris for making this aspiration a reality,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president.
The institute, which will be part of the university’s Keough School of Global Affairs, will study how religious teachings, traditions, history, practice and thought inform the rapidly shifting patterns of global migration, conflict and peacebuilding, political culture and human development.
Dr. Rafat Ansari is an oncologist. Dr. Zoreen Ansari is a family medicine physician. “We came as immigrants, and this country has given us so much,” Zoreen Ansari told the the New York Times in an interview published Saturday. “We want to give something back to America, but also to humanity. We want to promote the idea of equality.”
“The need for people of faith to focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us has never been more urgent,” Rev. Jenkins, said in a written statement published by the Notre Dame News and the New York Times.
The institute aims through research, teaching, outreach and interaction with religious communities worldwide, to become a center of public deliberation and education about all religions, the statement added.
In addition, the institute will create fellowships for promising graduate students and organize a series of conferences convening the foremost leaders, practitioners and thinkers engaged in inter-religious and religious-secular dialogue about issues of pressing social concern.
The Keough School of Global Affairs is the first new school or college at Notre Dame in nearly a century. The school will offer undergraduate programming and a two-year professional master of global affairs degree to prepare students for skilled, effective and ethical leadership in the public and private sectors.
The Zoreen Ansari Institute for Global Engagement With Religion will operate under Keough School of Global Affairs and will appoint faculty members who study the roles religions play in the public sphere and in crucial sectors such as health care, education and the economy, according to the university.
The Ansaris moved to the South Bend, Indiana, in 1980 and raised their three children — Sarah, Adam and Sonya in New York.
While the Ansaris were educated in Pakistan, their daughter Sarah graduated from Notre Dame Law School.
The couple in 2008 made a significant gift to the Regional Autism Center in South Bend to help the center expand services to teenagers and young adults. One of their children, Sonya, has autism. The facility was renamed the Sonya Ansari Center for Autism in her honor.
The Ansaris in 2011 were inducted into the South Bend Community Hall of Fame for their contributions to the community.
More than 30 years ago, Rafat Ansari helped form the Hoosier Oncology Group, a statewide network of doctors that provides clinical trial access to patients closer to their homes, guided by the Indiana University’s Simon Cancer Center, according to Tribune archives.
The couple also has contributed to Reins for Life, and hosted numerous fundraisers for Logan, the March of Dimes and other organizations.