Dr. Aziz Suryal Atiya, distinguished professor of history at the University of Utah and founder of he school's Middle East Center, died Sept. 24, 1988, University Hospital after a short illness. He was 90.
Dr. Atiya was widely known as a historian, writer and teacher who brought international recognition to the university through his scholarly works.He built the Middle East Center's library - which bears his name - into one of the most prestigious in America, with more than 100,000 volumes, some dating back before the time of Napoleon in Egypt. Most were collected personally by Dr. Atiya.
During the past 11 years, he has compiled all available information on the Coptic civilization into a comprehensive encyclopedia. The project will be completed by his wife, Lola, who has been his technical assistant.
The Copts are descendants of Egyptians converted to Christianity by the apostle Mark. Describing the importance of the encyclopedia, Dr. Atiya once said, "Every Christian on Earth who is interested in the origins of Christianity will have to refer to it. This is the kind of project that is done once in the whole span of the history of mankind."
He was born July 4, 1898, in a small Egyptian village and was himself a Coptic Christian.
He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Liverpool and a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies from the University of London. The University of Liverpool also awarded him a D.Litt in 1938, and he was Egypt's first Fulbright scholar.
He has taught at the Universities of London, Bonn, Cairo, Beirut and Alexandria and has been a visiting professor of Near Eastern studies at the Universities of Michigan and Indiana, as well as Princeton and Columbia. He held the chair of world Christianity for a year at Union Theological Seminary and was a Fellow of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study.
He holds a number of honorary doctorates, including two from the U. and one from Brigham Young University.
Dr. Atiya came to the U. in 1959 and founded the Institute of Inter-Cultural Studies, which became the Middle East Center. In 1967, he was named distinguished professor.
In 1974, he was honored with a "Festchrift," a book of research papers of noted scholars. Such as work is the highest recognition a scholar can receive from his colleagues. He wrote more than 40 books and monographs in three different languages. Among them: the "History of Eastern Christianity" and "Catalogue Raisonne of the Arabic Manuscripts of Mount Sinai."
The latter grew from his expedition to St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, where he brought to light documents that had gone unnoticed for centuries, including 2,000 scrolls in Arabic and Turkish dating from the 10th to the 19th centuries.
Funeral services will be conducted by the Most Rev. Father Gabriel, Coptic Archpriest from St. Mark's Church in New Jersey, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at noon at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 261 S. Ninth East. Friends may call at the church one hour prior to the service. In lieu of flowers the family suggest contributions be made in Dr. Atiya's name to the University Hospital intravenous team.