James R. Russell
Born (1953-10-27) October 27, 1953 (age 68)
Alma materColumbia University (B.A., 1974)
University of Oxford (M.A., 1977)
University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (Ph.D., 1982)
OccupationProfessor at Harvard University, author, scholar
Known forArmenian and Ancient Near Eastern scholar
Partner(s)D.E. Cordell [1]
Parent(s)Joseph Brooke Russell
Charlotte Sananes Russell
RelativesSidney A. Russell (grandfather)
Joshua Russell (brother)

James Robert Russell (born October 27, 1953) is a scholar and professor in Ancient Near Eastern, Iranian and Armenian Studies. He has published extensively in journals, and has written several books.

He is Emeritus Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, and sits on the executive committee of Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies.[2]

In July, 2016, Russell became semi-retired and moved his residence to Fresno, California.[3]

As of 2021, Russell is Emeritus Mashtots Professor of Armenian Studies at Harvard University, Distinguished Visiting Professor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a part-time Lecturer in Jewish Studies and Biblical Hebrew at California State University, Fresno.

Early life and education

James Russell was born in New York City and grew up in the Washington Heights Upper Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. His parents are Jewish: his mother's ancestry was Sephardic and his father's ancestry was Ashkenazic. He was educated at The Bronx High School of Science, Columbia University [B.A. summa cum laude 1974], and the University of Oxford [B.Litt. 1977],[4] under the Armenologists Nina Garsoïan and Charles Dowsett. He had attended Oxford as the recipient of a Kellett Fellowship awarded upon graduation from Columbia University.

He earned his Ph.D. at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), under the direction of Mary Boyce. His 1982 Ph.D. thesis was entitled "Zoroastrianism in Armenia" and later published by Harvard University Press.


Soon after finishing his Ph.D. he returned to New York City and taught at Columbia University in the Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures (MELAC).

He subsequently moved to Israel to became a Lady Davis Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the recommendation and invitation of the scholar Michael E. Stone.

By 1992, Russell was short-listed and soon accepted and was appointed to the Mashtots Chair in Armenian Studies in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department at Harvard University, succeeding Robert W. Thomson the first holder of that chair since 1969 who had returned to Oxford University in England. Russell occupied the Mashtots Chair from 1993 until his retirement.

He also taught a wide range of subjects, including freshman seminars on literature and comparative religions, literature and cultures.[5]

Dr. Russell serves on the executive committees of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

He has taught and lectured in Armenia, India, and Iran and at the Oriental Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Saint Petersburg State University. He was Government Fellowship Lecturer at the Cama Institute in Bombay, India.[6]

Russell has been called, "A complex figure... (who) resists easy classification and is no stranger to controversy: reviled by Turks and Armenians alike."[7]

He has been interviewed as an expert and scholar on The History Channel's documentary programs including Angels: Good or Evil.[8]

Russell has been one of the three faculty advisers for the conservative fortnightly student newspaper The Harvard Salient.

He lectured on Soteriology on the Silk Road for the Buddhist Lecture Series of the University of Toronto in October 2005, and organized and chaired an international symposium in the same month to commemorate the 1600th anniversary of Saint Mesrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet. He has written on, translated, and analyzed the esoteric, mystical, and spiritual aspects of the writings of Gregory of Narek, and has written numerous articles for the Encyclopædia Iranica. He contributed to the New Leader magazine.

Ninety one of his selected published scholarly journal articles, are gathered in his book, Armenian and Iranian Studies.


Russell's writings were criticised by Armenian historians Armen Ayvazyan[9] and Armen Petrosyan,[10] who conclude that Russell is making gross factual mistakes together with unsubstantiated and tendentious claims on Armenian history and culture. Ayvazyan considers Russell, along with a number of other leading American armenologists, to be one of the representatives of the "false Western school of Armenian studies".[11] Bert Vaux, an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics at Harvard University, claims that Russell's "chair [of Armenian Studies] is actually hurting the [Armenian] community at this point. When you call the Armenians neo-Nazis, that isn't helping the community and it's not leaving it alone - it's hurting it. You are providing fodder for people that want to attack the Armenians."[12]

In his speech at the conference "Rethinking Armenian Studies: Past, Present, and Future" on October 4, 2002 at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, Russell cautioned the audience against the "conspiracy theories, xenophobia, and ultra-nationalist pseudo-science [which] have come increasingly into the mainstream of Armenology in the Armenian Republic" and which have found sympathetic outlets in some of the diasporic press, where paranoia and anti-Semitism have been notably present. "It is a task of the community to set its house in order because these trends are in the end suicidal," he warned. Although Prof. Russell declines to debate such issues, he stated that "I will help with my pen what I still believe to be the great majority of Armenians to expose and destroy the sort of people who are not only dragging our field, but possibly the community itself into dangerous territory".[13]

Personal life

Professor Russell is the son of Dr. Charlotte Sananes Russell,[14] a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the City College of New York, and Joseph Brooke Russell, an attorney and arbitrator in New York.[15] His grandfather, Sidney A. Russell, was a founder and president of Russell & Russell, publisher of out-of-print scholarly books.[16]

James Russell lives in Fresno, California with his partner of many years, the artist, photographer, scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and literature, the educator D.E. Cordell.[1]

Partial Russell Bibliography


Scholarly articles

Irano-Judaica V, Shaul Shaked and Amnon Netzer, eds., Jerusalem: Ben-Zri Institute, 2003, pp. 1-15

Representative articles in the Encyclopædia Iranica

Popular articles


  1. ^ a b “Homoerotic poetry and Yeghishe Charents”, AGLA NY Spring Lecture with James Russell 4/2/2015, Events March 2, 2015.
  2. ^ Executive Committee, Davis Center
  3. ^ "Lecture Announcement: James R. Russell: And the Book Was Not Consumed: The Forty Days of Musa Dagh and the Nazi Holocaust" Archived 2018-09-02 at the Wayback Machine, Berkeley Events, University of California, Berkeley, October 27, 2016
  4. ^ Columbia College (Columbia University). Office of Alumni Affairs and Development; Columbia College (Columbia University) (1988). Columbia College today. Columbia University Libraries. New York, N.Y. : Columbia College, Office of Alumni Affairs and Development.
  5. ^ Kavulla, Travis, "A Small Niche for Great Books: An Armenian Studies professor’s lonely accomplishment in general education", Harvard Crimson, Friday, January 20, 2006
  6. ^ Professor James R. Russell's page at Harvard University
  7. ^ Sanders, Gabriel, "Reluctantly Thrust Into Spotlight, Armenia Scholar Becomes Equal Opportunity Offender", The Forward, October 10, 2007
  8. ^ "Angels: Good or Evil" Archived 2007-02-20 at the Wayback Machine, The History Channel, TV documentary, originally aired May 10, 2003. Angels: Good or Evil at IMDb
  9. ^ The History of Armenia as Presented in American Historiography (A Critical Survey), Yerevan 1998
  10. ^ Armenological" Fabrications of J. Russell, Historical-Philological Journal, 2000, No 3, pp. 241-257.
  11. ^ The History of Armenia as Presented in American Historiography (A Critical Survey), Yerevan 1998
  12. ^ Vaux also makes the claim that Russell's "training is actually in Iranian Studies", although Russell (who taught modern and ancient Armenian as well as Armenian history at Columbia before arriving at Harvard, and most of whose scholarly work has been on Armenian language, culture, and history) does have both an undergraduate degree in Armenian studies and a Ph.D. on the subject of Zorastrianism in Armenia. "The Armenian Language and Armenian Studies: An Interview with Linguistics Professor Bert Vaux", interview by Jason Sohigian, The Armenian Weekly Online September–October 2003.
  13. ^ Major Conference on Armenian Studies Held at Harvard and NAASR Center. The Armenian Reporter, January 4, 2003
  14. ^ Faculty Page: Professor Charlotte S. Russell Archived 2010-06-10 at the Wayback Machine - Chemistry Department, City College of New York.
  15. ^ "Profile for Joseph Russell"[permanent dead link], Alumni Association of Lafayette High School, Brooklyn, New York. "Graduated in Jan. '43, age 15, worked in factories and on farm to 17, Naval Aviation '44-'46, BA '50, JD '52 Columbia; Law practice to retirement in '88 from CBS Law Dept. Married 12/47 to Charlotte Sananes, New Utrecht HS grad. Jan. '43, BA summa cum laude Brooklyn Coll. '46, MA '47, PhD '51, Columbia, now professor emerita, CCNY. ... Retired lawyer/judge, part-time Hearing Examiner for NYC Health Dept."
  16. ^ "Genealogy: Sidney A. Russell". geni.com