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Key investments in my way of being an historian of religions are inspection  of writings and art for their multiple layers of meaning, attention to intellectual and social-political aspects of a religion’s traditions, and the attempt to discover how a religion works both to shape and define itself, and also to distinguish/separate itself from others.

My first work treated the extent to which early Christianity necessarily appropriated the ideas and practices of its declared opponent and oppressor—Greco-Roman and imperial culture. Inner-Christian struggles to find a way to speak of and worship a sovereign God attracted me to the hot issues of the “Arian controversy” of the 4th century C.E., and an attempt (with Dennis Groh) to make clearer sense of the theology of the arch-heretic Arius. The role of emergent Christian monasticism also occupied me, leading to my translation of Athanasius’s The Life of Antony, the famed Egypian desert monk.

Briefly leaving the library for the “field,” I labored (with the late Dan Urman) to analyze 250 inscribed stones (in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic) that provided important information about how closely Jews, Christians and Roman polytheists lived together and interacted in towns and villages of the Golan Heights and Syria between the 1st and 7th centuries. By then my scholarly specialty was well-defined: religious competition in the late-Roman and medieval Mediterranean and Levant.

Just before 2000 I began offering courses (named “Peoples of the Book”) devoted to the study of several “sacred stories” which appear in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and in the Qur’an—and the history of these narratives as interpreted by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim writers and artists between the 1st and the 16th centuries. The yield of this effort is Shared Stories, Rival Tellings


The University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA (1969-1974)
  Ph.D. in religious Thought: Early Christianity

Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, MA (1960-1963)
  M. Div., Concentrations in Biblical Studies, History

University of the South, Sewanee, Tn (1956-1960)
  B.a., English Literature

Professional Positions

Stanford University

  • Director, Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies (2005-2009)
  • Teresa Hihn Moore Professor in Religious Studies (1999-2005)
  • Dean for Religious Life, Dean of Memorial Church (1987-1999)
  • Professor of Religious Studies, Professor of Classics (by courtesy) (1987-1999)

Duke University

  • Associate Professor of Early Christianity (1978-1987)
  • Assistant Professor of Patristics, Medieval Church History (1974-1978)

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL

  • Assistant Professor of New Testament, Early Christianity (1971-1974)

Awards and Prizes

  • The Stanford University [Humanities and Sciences] Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching - Lifetime Achievements in Teaching, 2008
  • The Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Teaching Prize, 2001
  • The Richard W. Lyman Award for Service to the University (Alumni Association), 1996
  • Doctor of Divinity (honoris causa), University of the South, 1991

Research INterests

History of Christianity: institutions, social organization, and religious thought, from 1st through the 6th centuries; religions of late antiquity: Greek and Roman religious philosophies and practices; the interactions of Judaism, Roman polytheism ("paganism") and Christianity, 1st-6th centuries; first encounters of Jews, Christians and Muslims as seen in the light of their competitive scripture interpretations, 1st-6th centuries.