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IRVING HEXHAM
A PERSONAL PROFILE

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As a visitor to the Christian Travelers Guides Web Site you probably want to know something about the person who created this Web Site to enable you to evaluate its contents. This site, as well as Zondervan's Christian Travelers Guides series, is the brainchild of Irving Hexham. If you want to see his formal academic cv and list of publications there are links to the at the end of this profile. Irving is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, Canada, where he specializes in the study of new religious movements. A frequent broadcaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other Canadian radio and television networks, he has published nineteen books and over sixty academic articles and chapters in books. An active Christian he is a member of the Anglican Church.

Irving was born into a working-class family in Whitehaven, Cumbria, England, in 1943, and spent his childhood in various parts of the north of England. Like most of his contemporaries he left school at the age of 15. He served a six-year apprenticeship in gas fitting before becoming a manager and later a lecturer in gas technology for the North Western Gas Board in Manchester, England, before entering university in 1967.

When Irving was eighteen years old, he experienced an evangelical conversion. This event radically changed his life since none of the people he worked with made any pretense of being Christian, nor did they ever bother to attend church, or read books. Shortly, after his conversion, Billy Graham came to Manchester and Irving participated in The Greater Manchester Crusade (1961). His attempt to interest a Gas Board manager in the Graham Crusade led this man to recommend Irving for an apprentice exchange to West Berlin, Germany, organized by the Manchester Industrial Chaplaincy in 1962.

His visit to Berlin, which included a brief arrest by Russians soldiers in Communist East Berlin, brought Irving face to face with both communism and non-evangelical forms of Christianity. Consequently, he encountered both Marxism and Biblical Criticism at about the same time causing him to begin reading books about philosophy, academic theology, history and religion and eventually to leave the Gas Board for an academic career.

Irving’s search for solutions to the intellectual problems he encountered through his reading led him to contact a young Canadian graduate student, Clark Pinnock, who today is a well known evangelical theologian and Professor of Theology at McMaster Divinity School in Canada. Through Clark, and another friend, Jillian White (nee Jackson), he was introduced to Francis Schaeffer and the L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland.

He made his first visit to L’Abri in 1964 and returned several times afterwards. Encouraged by both Pinnock, Schaeffer, and Schaeffer's son-in-law, Ranald Macaulay, he entered the University of Lancaster in 1967 to read for a degree in Religious Studies. At Lancaster he studied under Professors Ninian Smart, Edward Conze, James Dickie (Yaqub Zaki), Robert Morgan, James Richardson, and a number of other well known scholars.

Graduating from Lancaster in 1970 he moved to Bristol University where he wrote his M.A. thesis in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies on New Age Thought in Glastonbury under the supervision of the Rev. Fred Welbourn. The title of his thesis was Some Aspects of the Contemporary Search for an Alternative Society (1971). This was the first British thesis on a new religious movement, and the first on the New Age thought in Europe or North America. His Ph.D. dissertation was supervised by Professor Kenneth Ingham in the Department of History at the University of Bristol.

His dissertation dealt with the origins of the ideology of apartheid and the relationship between Calvinism and Afrikaner Nationalism prior to 1920 in South Africa. Research for his Ph.D. involved archival work in Britain and the Netherlands, and a two year fieldtrip to South Africa where he lived in an Afrikaner Nationalist community and worked in various archives. The dissertation was entitled Totalitarian Calvinism: The Reformed (Dopper) community in South Africa 1902-1919 (1975).

After completing his Ph.D. Irving taught for three years at Bishop Lonsdale College, now the University of Derby, England. It was an Anglican institution with a strong Christian ethos. In 1977 he moved to the elite evangelical graduate school, Regent College, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where he directed the interdisciplinary program. At Regent he lectured on a variety of topics including Christianity and Culture and Christian Apologetics. Unfortunately, his British background and education left him completely unprepared to teach topics like these to North American students whose experiences were very different to his own. Therefore, he decided to move to a secular university to enable him to experience a North American university firsthand.

Consequently, in 1980, he accepted a post at the University of Manitoba where he joined two other evangelical scholars, Larry Hurtado, New Testament, and Egil Grislis, Church History, in the Religious Studies Department. In 1984 he moved yet again to the Department of Religious Studies at University of Calgary where the well known evangelical Old Testament scholar Peter Craigie was attempting to build a new graduate program in religion.

Irving’s academic work has concentrated on the study of New Religious Movements, including groups popularly known as cults, in Africa, Europe and North America. His M.A. dealt with the "Hippies" of Glastonbury. For his Ph.D. he studied Afrikaner neo-Calvinism and its relationship to political Nationalism. While working in South African archives for his Ph.D., Irving took the opportunity to study African Independent Churches and traditional African religions. Consequently, for four months he lived on a mission station in a remote area of the Transkei. He returned to South Africa on major research trips to investigate Afrikaner and African folks religions (1981),Christian reconciliation movements, and Charismatic Christianity among both Blacks and Whites (1987 and 1989).

Since 1992 Irving has made almost annual research trips to Germany where he is working on several research projects. In particular he is interested in German influences on Afrikaner Nationalism and the relationship between German philosophy, new religions, and National Socialism. He also works closely with several German scholars on Christian missions in Africa and African Independent Churches including the amaNazarite movement of Isaiah Shembe among the Zulu in South Africa.

These research projects, which caused Irving to travel widely, led him to the realization that Christians are loosing the so-called "culture wars" in terms of the interpretation of both culture and history. Thus, while many new religions tap Christian cultural resources for their own ends, few Christians are even aware of the rich resources of their own tradition. Therefore, Irving recognized the need to awaken a sense of history and cultural awareness among Christians and developed the Zondervan travel guide series as part of this mission.

Irving is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and various academic societies including: the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion; Royal Anthropological Institute; American Academy of Religion; the Berliner Gesellschaft für Missionsgeschichte, and the Deutschen Vereinigung für Religionsgeschichte. If you want to know more about his academic work you can read his cv and complete list of publications:


Irving Hexham and his wife, anthropologist, Karla Poewe