Here are some brief responses to your queries:

I have been teaching courses on Islam, religion, art and history, for many years and have recently replaced my courses in history of religion survey with separate courses on Hinduism and Buddhism, leaning heavily on art and architecture. Once a year I have offered a graduate course in Comparative Theology, a prerequisite for all Historical Theology students designed to follow up on a history of religions survey.

As for research, I have just returned to "hard core" Islamic material, after a couple of years of wandering around in other religious traditions by way of popular publications. I am currently working on translating a selection of medieval Arabic texts on the theme of experiential knowledge, under contract to Paulist Press to produce a Classics of Western Spirituality volume titled "Knowledge of God in Classical Sufism."

Until we revised our Ph.D. a few years ago, I had been largely on the fringe of our department, an interesting bur unnecessary appendage. More recently my colleagues have come to see my specialization as much less peripheral to the mission of the department and even as integral to our doctoral work. Still, I have had to work at retooling myself into a medievalist that historians of Catholic/Christian theology could begin to recognize. The challenge has been to contribute to our medieval historical theology area without either entirely giving up the Islamic material or making unrealistic demands on students. I now feel that I can no longer realistically let the Islamic studies material slide without losing it, and that in any case I don't want -- even if I could at the age of 56 -- to assume a new career as a Europeanist. So I'll fit in as I am able on the graduate level. Meanwhile, my undergrad courses are consistently overbooked, always more than enough students interested in the religious views of the "rest" of humankind.

I do think it might be useful to gather colleagues in our situation to exchange ideas and experiences. We really are, I think, in a significantly different setting than many fellow religion specialists who frequent the AAR and are pretty much baffled by talk of theological missions.

Till later,
Jack Renard

Created: September 2, 2000 Updated: September 2, 2000