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.
Since he joined MU’s Religious Studies Department in 2005, Robert Baum has been a very busy guy. Beyond teaching courses in the areas of indigenous religions, Islam, and the history of religions, Baum also currently serves as chair of the Religious Studies Department and is involved with numerous other departments and programs at MU. For instance, he is affiliated with the Women and Gender Studies Department, the Black Studies Program, the Afro-Romance Institute, and the Folklore, Oral Tradition, and Culture Program. Baum has also been active in developing an African Studies Initiative and in participating in the Center for Arts and Humanities, the Pew Center on Religion and the Professions, the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, and the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative.
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.”