Being a religious studies professor means that Robert Baum is frequently asked about his own religion, to which he responds cheerfully, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist,” a remark that reveals his “deep commitment to make sure Africa is included whenever we talk about the world.” Running through all of Baum’s work—whether teaching, research, or outreach—is a value on religious literacy, the desire to promote a better understanding of the world’s major religions.
Given that half of Africa is Muslim, it is not surprising that Baum teaches a course on Islam. “Since 9/11,” however, his research on Islam has been in especially high demand. Living in Iowa at the time, he was asked to be on the “Iowans Respond” panel, which appeared on public television. Soon thereafter, Baum was giving lectures about Islam all around the state, and he eventually produced a DVD Abraham’s Children: The Shared Religious Heritage of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. From that point on, an important part of Baum’s work has involved outreach—helping people gain an appreciation for how much is shared between these world religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. “A lot of the tension among the three,” he notes, “is precisely because of what they share more than the issues where they differ.”
As soon as Baum begun teaching religious studies, he found people that one of the first questions people asked him was about his religion, to which he was ready with the cheerful response, “I’m an Evangelical Africanist.” “That comes from a deep commitment to make sure that Africa is included whenever we talk about the world,” he clarifies, and he loves to share this excitement about Africa with others. “I try to stretch people…to get students to see the world in as many different ways as possible, as a kind of intellectual limbering and flexibility exercise, so that they get a broader sense of what the possibilities of being human are [and] come away with more questions—about Africa, or indigenous religions, or about religions in general.”