David Kerr, 1945-2008

July 10, 2008

Long before events thrust the relationship between Christianity and Islam to the centre of the political consciousness, David Kerr was devoting his professional life to furthering interfaith understanding.

Professor Kerr, who has died aged 62, worked at universities in England, Scotland, the US and Scandinavia.

After studying as an undergraduate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in the 1960s, he read theology at Mansfield College, Oxford, and went on to do a PhD at St Antony's College.

A brief spell as a BBC journalist was followed by a return to academia. He joined the Selly Oak Colleges, which were linked to the University of Birmingham, where he founded the Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations in 1976.

His son Simeon Kerr recalled: "Taking Birmingham's growing Muslim population as an important backdrop for its work, he also helped build scholarly resources on the study of Islam in the UK."

Professor Kerr remained at the centre as director until 1988, when he moved to Hartford Seminary, Connecticut. There, he served as director of the Duncan Black Macdonald Centre for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations until 1995.

Later he was to take the posts of director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World at the University of Edinburgh and, finally, professor in missiology and ecumenics at the University of Lund, in Sweden, in 2005.

Within months of this last appointment, he was diagnosed with motor-neurone disease. He died in April.

He is survived by his wife, a daughter and his son, who recalled his father's concerns about the British Government's attitude to dialogue between religions.

His son said: "While at Edinburgh, (he) was invited to one of Tony Blair's events in Downing Street aiming to foster interfaith relations in the wake of 9/11, but he left convinced that the Government's interest did not extend beyond PR.

"He once had a public argument with International Development Secretary Clare Short when she dismissed the role religion can play in development."

Viggo Mortensen, a former colleague of Professor Kerr who is chair of the Nordic Institute for Missiology and Ecumenics, said: "He had a magisterial overview of the central figures in the history of Christian mission to Islam ... In a situation where the sociocultural relations between Christianity and Islam were more strained than at any time in recent history, he remained an advocate for peaceful convivencia instead of construing the Christian-Muslim encounter as a clash of civilisations."


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