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Some Famous Scholars to Whom I am Indebted
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Akbar Ahmed
Al Truesdale
Pandurang Shastri Athavale
Robert Bellah
Morris Berman
Marcus Borg
Joseph Campbell
Forrest Church
Don Compier
Wendy Doniger
Diana Eck
Mircea Eliade
Matthew Fox
Bud Heckman
S Mark Heim
Suzannnah Heschel
Paul F Knitter
Amy-Jill Levine
Martin Marty
Timothy Miller
Elaine Pagels
Eboo Patel
Stephen Prothero
Huston Smith
Daniel Stevenson
Al Truesdale
E O Wilson
Bousma, Burhoe, Tapp, Wieman, Patterson, Shapiro, Kübler-Ross, Cox, Gendlin, . . . 

Distinguished theologian Paul F Knitter visited Colonial Congregational Church in Prairie Village 2018 April 20 and spoke on "Attitudes toward the Religious Other: The Christian Landscape," ways Christians can approach thinking about those of other faiths. 
     Vern had a chance to speak briefly with him before his presentation and mentioned that his 2002 book, Introducing Theologies of Religion, is one of the sources for Vern's class, "Ministry in a Pluralistic World," at Central Seminary.
     Vern also commented during the forum after the lecture. One point of discussion was the difficulty of one person representing an entire faith tradition with its many historical and contemporary expressions. Vern noted that the Kansas City Interfaith Council was organized in 1989 not with representatives of 13 faiths, but with 13 people from different faith backgrounds, thus avoiding this easy trap. Even Christians forget that their faith today might be very different from another Christian's faith across the street (even within Protestantism, not to mention Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or in other parts of the world; and historical development is seldom recognized -- a Southern Baptist today may be very different from one 50 years ago. 

Thanks to Jen Greene for these photos.
2018 April 30, Stephen Prothero and Vern discuss the merits of Prothero's 2010 book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, which Vern is using as one of several texts at Central Seminary. Another member of the audience at the annual Religious Studies lecture at KU happened to have a copy of the 2011 column Vern had written about the book and showed it to them. Prothero signed Vern's copy of his new book, Why Liberals Win (Even When They Lose Elections). Prothero's lecture reviewed his earlier and continuing concern about American religious illiteracy, about which he wrote in his 2007 Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't. 
     Prothero's website is http://stephenprothero.com/.

In Vern's Westort home, Vern and Bud Heckman in 2006 plan the nation's first Interfaith Academies, one for religious professionals and one for students, to be held in Kansas City, in part because of access to onsite visits to various religious communities. The 2007 Academies were sponsored by the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Religions for Peace-USA at the UN Plaza, the Saint Paul School of Theology which also provided housing, and the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. Vern also served on the international faculty of scholars. Bud completed editing his book, Interactive Faith, during the Academies.

Vern discusses a recently published book with the prolific writer Martin E Marty of the University of Chicago, visiting in Kansas City. The story around the Div School when Vern studied there was of a grad student who phoned Marty's office. The professor's secretary answered. The student said, "I'd please like to speak with Dr Marty." The secretary responded, "I'm sorry, Dr Marty has just begin writing a new book." The student replied, "OK, I'll just hold on the line until he's finished."

Vern here visits with another University of Chicago Divinity School professor, Wendy Doniger, who stirred international controversy with her book 2009 book, The Hindus: An Alternative History; it was the #1 best seller in India, but then a court case involved charges of heresy and the book was withdrawn by its publisher in India. It has since been issued there by a different publisher. Also a prolific author, Dr Doniger held the post of  Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of History of Religions. 

Te paths of Harvard's Diana Eck, founder of the Pluralism Project, and Vern have crossed several times. She delivered a key address at the ground-breaking initial conference of the North America Interfaith Netrwork conference in 1988, "A North American Assisi. During another visit to the area, Vern gave her the text of Kansas Governor Bill Graves' 1997 Ramadan  Proclamation, thought to be the first by any governor. The text was included in her 2001 book, A New Religious America (page 354), and when she came back to Kansas City in 2005, Vern confessed that he had ghost-written the Proclamation for Governor Graves.

"Responsible" for the controversial phrase "Civil Religion" (from his classic 1968 essay), and famous for his 1985 book Habits of the Heart, sociologist of religion (University of California at Berkeley) Robert Bellah was in Kansas City in 1999 when Vern interviewed him for The Kansas City Star March 17. Bellah's 2011 book, Religion in Human Evolution, is on Vern's list of the most important books in the field if you want to have an informed conversation. 
     I've not met Robert Wuthnow, but he did call me on the phone when he was working on one of his books. This 1988 article on Civil Religion remains important: Divided We Fall: America’s Two Civil Religions .

Mircea Eliade was my teacher at the University of Chicago Divinity School -- and my next-door neighbor. He and his wife Christinel presented a gift (now politically incorrect) of a lotus ashtray with individual petals to my bride and me at our wedding in 1970. (I had told Mrs Eliade that when I first arrived on campus, I was convinced Eliade was wrong about a certain characteristic of myths, but when I studied with her husband, I discovered he was right. She was amused by my grad student na?vet?.) Through his students and his dozens of books and his editing of the massive 15-volume Encyclopedia of Religion, Eliade remains probably the most influential teacher of "history of religions," a field he practically created. 

I first met Huston Smith in 1969 or 1970 at the Div School at the University of Chicago where he had studied and had returned to report on a second trip to Tibet. We kept running into each other at various meetings and became friends. I have never met anyone who more appropriately can be termed a "gentleman." Born in China, in this 2005 photo at the Kansas City Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, he looks very like a Taoist immortal! Author of the all-time best-selling The World's Religions, he consented to being interviewed for my Kansas City Star columns repeatedly. I cherish taking him to his parents' graves in Marshall, MO. I collected some other photos as a remembrance when he died in 2016, aged 97.

Campbell had retired when I met and studied with him, first at a week-long seminar in Santa Barbara. Long familiar with his Hero with a Thousand Faces, I asked him about adpating the three-part sequence he theorizes for the individual's spiritual journey into a four-part liturgical pattern for groups. The Kansas City Friends of Jung brought him here several times after that. In 1988 Campbell became known to a wider audience through the Bill Moyers PBS "Power of Myth" six-hour poorly edited and sometimes inaccurate interview series. He was trained in literature, and his study of religion was without much scholarly expertise, which led him to flawed assumptions. In my view, Campbell was a convincing story-teller, a bit if the charlatan, elitist, proto-fascist, crypo-anti-Semite, a great spiritual entertainer. Perhaps there is no better indication of his self-absorption and scorn for social structures (from which he himself benefited) than his facile advice, "follow your bliss." Still, I learned much from him and value the way he was able to show a large audience hungry for spiritual fare how myths are powerful paths to the sacred in our secularistic age.


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