HAAS, WILLIAM S. (also Wilhelm, Willy; b. Nuremberg, Germany, 13 July 1883; d. New York, 3 January 1956), German-born Iranist, advisor to the Iranian ministry of education and a pioneer of Iranian studies in the United States. Haas studied in Munich, Berlin, and Vienna, receiving his Dr. Phil. from the University of Munich in 1910, with a dissertation entitled Über Echtheit und Unechtheit von Gefühlen (Behn, II, p. 2).

Before World War I Haas traveled in the Middle East, and during the war he worked at the Bureau of Islamic and Indian Affairs at the German Foreign Office in Berlin (Obituary in New York Times, 4 January 1956). This was the same office that had recruited Sayyed Ḥasan Taqizādeh at that time to organize propaganda efforts in support of the Ottoman-German Alliance (Taqizādeh, pp. 181-88, 480-84; see KĀVA). Years after the war, when Haas fled Hitler’s Germany to find succor in Iran, he may have benefited from Taqizādeh’s advocacy in finding employment with the Iranian government. Be that as it may, Haas served as an advisor (mostašār) to the Iranian Ministry of Education, 1934-39. He may have offered courses on Western philosophy at the Teacher’s Training College (Dānešsarā-ye ʿāli; see EDUCATION xviii. TEACHERS’-TRAINING SCHOOLS) and at the newly founded Faculty of Letters and Humanities at the University of Tehran. 

With the outbreak of World War II, Haas migrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. For a year he taught at the University of Denver (1941-42). Then, from 1943 to 1948 he participated in teaching area studies courses to military servicemen and intelligence agents at the School for Iranian Studies that had been established in affiliation with the Asia Institute in New York City. Meanwhile, Haas also prepared reports and analyses on Iran and Morocco for the Office of Special Services and the Office of War Information (Obituary). His book, Iran (first published 1946) was one of the earliest of its kind in English, providing a timely, fair, and information-packed resource on the country. At the reception that President Dwight Eisenhower held in honor of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s visit to Columbia University on 19 December 1949, Haas was presented as the leading force behind preparing the pedagogical curriculum at the university’s soon-to-be-established Center for Iranian Studies (“Columbia”; Noṭqhā, p. 92). 

Haas was a prolific author, and his experience in teaching philosophy and government at the University of Cologne and the Academy of Political Science in Berlin during the years of the Weimar Republic had nurtured in him a strong proclivity toward making philosophical generalizations. The principal thesis that Haas elaborated, most fully in his posthumously published The Destiny of the Mind, was that Western and Eastern mind-structures represent two radically different modes of consciousness. The East-West dichotomy that Haas stressed became a tenacious point of reference in intellectual debates in Iran.

Haas never married. He died of a heart attack in his home, 19 East 86th Street, New York City, and was buried at the Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx, New York City.




Die Seele des Orients. Grundzüge einer Psychologie des orientalischen Menschen, Jena, 1916 (review Oskar Rescher, Der Islam 7, 1917, pp. 143-48).

Die psychische Dingwelt, Bonn, 1921.

Antlitz der Zeit: Sinfonie moderner Industriedichtung: Selbstbildnis und Eigenauswahl der Autoren, Berlin, 1926.

What is European Civilization? And What Is Its Future? London, 1929.

Iran, New York, 1946; repr., 1956, 1966.

“The March of Philosophy of History and Its Crucial Problem Today,” Philosophical Review 58/2, 1949, pp. 101-29.

The Destiny of the Mind, East and West, New York, 1956.



W. Behn, Concise Biographical Companion to Index Islamicus: An International Who’s Who in Islamic Studies from Its Beginnings Down to the Twentieth Century, 3 vols., Leiden, 2006. 

“Columbia to Found Iranian Study Center,” New York Times, 20 December 1949, p. 33.

Noṭqhā va moṣāḥebehā-ye rasmi-e Aʿlāḥażrat homāyun šāhanšāhi dar mosāferat be Kešvarhā-ye mottaḥede-ye Āmrika az 24 ābān tā 12 dey-e 1328, Tehran, Edāre-ye koll-e entešārāt o tabliḡāt, 1328 Š./1950.

Obituary: “William Haas, 72, Near East Expert, Professor at Columbia Dies,” New York Times, 4 January 1956, p. 27.

S. Ḥ. Taqizādeh, Zendegi-e ṭufāni: ḵāṭerāt-e Sayyed Ḥasan-e Taqizādeh, ed. Iraj Afšār, Tehran, 1993.


(Hossein Kamaly)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: February 26, 2014