Research
Agenda
  • I am an expert in the history and comparison of world religions with a specialization in the traditions of Near Eastern origins, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, often collectively identified as the Abrahamic Religions. However, my scholarly interests are extremely diverse and include global issues, politics, ethnicity, gender and dialogue in the world’s primary living religions.
  • My University of Michigan dissertation (Salvation By Law: The Protrepetic Theology of Ad Autolycum, published in 1997) and my book (Theophilus of Antioch: The Life and Thought of a Second-Century Bishop, published in 2000) are both the products of my long-standing fascination with the practical application of historical and religious studies for contemporary interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue, and with conflict resolution. Together, for the first time in scholarly literature, those two documents detail the life and thought of an impressive Jewish-Christian theologian who promoted a substantial theory for resolving issues of conflict in his violent world. In my judgment, Theophilus’ soteriology laid a foundation for an open dialogue between Jews and Christians, the principles of which can now be extended to include a trialogue with Muslims.
  • At present I am pulling together 15 years of research and scholarly discussion for an article on the advantages of treating the histories of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as a single unified story of the Abrahamic Religions. I believe this approach will enhance a polite pluralistic agenda and encourage more productive interfaith dialogue. The stories of these three traditions leave all of us with much to consider as we try to build a more tolerant and just society. But as those stories are seen to be important expressions of a more universal and common history, we might be able to feel the greater weight of responsibility to seek understanding so as to survive collectively in these increasingly dangerous times. I will be applying for a Summer 2007 Cross Currents Research Colloquium Fellowship at Columbia University to further the development of this project.
  • Furthermore, and based on the above analysis and agenda, I intend to publish a textbook, The Abrahamic Religions: A Common History and A Comparative Study of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I envision a book that will include a CD with a host of images and online sources, and a teacher's manual with materials for classroom activities and student projects, and with some basic PowerPoint/Keynote presentations.
  • For several years I have been involved with three local organizations, the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County, the Interfaith Scholars Colloquy of Greater Detroit, and the National Conference for Community and Justice. My research, which seeks to determine productive categories for interfaith dialogue, is informed by a pluralist approach in religious analysis as seen in the writings of Diana Eck, John Hick, Paul Knitter, Raimon Panikkar and David Tracy. My work is designed to be of practical value to religious pluralists, and some of it will contain data from interviews and documentation of local institutional histories. In this regard I have developed and helped produce an online tool for local religious communities, which includes the mapping of the religious landscape of Washtenaw County and the presentation of numerous institutional histories.
  • Another project was started in the summer of 2002 for a presentation at an EMU Conference (9/13-15/2002), entitled “A Brave New World: The Lasting Effects of September 11th.” The original title of the paper was “Jihad and Extremist Movements,” but has since been expanded and used for class discussions as “Jihad: Theory and Perception.” The term “Jihad” is usually defined as “striving in the path of God,” a Muslim concept grossly misunderstood by the American public. Jihad is an idea that has theological and social, as well as political, meanings. While the Jihad of the Sword was important to the early wars of imperialism in the Muslim world, (events bearing some resemblance to medieval Byzantine expansion, the 12th century Crusades, and even British colonialism, all given religious justification), it is widely held among contemporary Muslims that Jihad has been corrupted by extremist movements to include what most people would characterize as terrorist or guerrilla activities, such as the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. My paper, building upon the work of David Cook, Reuven Firestone and Bruce Lawrence, clarified Jihad theory and outlined the history of the perversion of Jihad within selected extremist movements. Jihad, in both normative and fundamentalist Islam, has led to dovish and hawkish reactions within the global Muslim community. The histories of Hamas, Hizbullah, al-Jihad, and al-Qaeda, among other perceived terrorist movements, were considered in my work for their contributions to the evolution of the Jihad of the Sword. I would like to further expand and publish this article in the near future.
  • I recently composed five short articles on English and American religious movements, namely, the Plymouth Brethren Movement, Christian Science, Mormonism, the Salvation Army, and the Jehovah's Witnesses, to be published next year in the “Facts on File” Encyclopedia of World History.