William E. Shepard Author of Evaluating Organization Development

William E. Shepard

Assoc. Prof. of Religious Studies, Retired
University of Canterbury

My main field of interest is modern Islamic ideologies, especially the writings of the radical Islamist, Sayyid Qutb, but I also deal with the Islamic tradition generally, and to some extent with other religions. Though retired I am still active. I am also an ordained Presbyterian minister. I am an American but have lived in New Zealand for the last 35 years. Before that I lived for a year in Brazil and another in Egypt and have visited many other countries. Portuguese is my second language.

Subjects: Religion


I was born in Pennsylvania in 1933 and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., where I attended the public schools. I then attended Swarthmore College, graduating in 1955, and Union Theological Seminary in New York City, graduating in 1959. The same year I was ordained a minister the Presbyterian church of the U.S.A. A summer work camp in Mexico in 1953 gave me my first experience outside the U.S. and an internship as student pastor in Kansas in 1956-7 gave me a good experience of rural life.

I spent the year 1959-60 in Brazil as associate pastor in an English language interdenominational church in Rio de Janeiro. While there I met Elza Botelho, who was to become my wife, and through her and her friends learned Portuguese and came to appreciate the criticisms that many Latin Americans have of U.S. policies.

For the next six years I was a pastor in interracial churches in the Bronx. I like to say that I learned sociology on the city streets. I also participated in various marches and other activities of the civil rights movement. In 1961 Elza and I were married and our two children were born in 1963 and 1965.

During this time I gradually developed an interest in world religions and in 1966 I was accepted into the program in the Comparative Study of Religion at Harvard, then headed by Wilfred Cantwell Smith. I chose to concentrate on Islam partly because my experience in the Bronx made me interested in a religion that claims to have guidance on social issues, as Islam does.

In 1968 I took my first trip to the Middle East, to participate in a summer Arabic language course at the American University of Cairo. In 1969-70 I was back in Cairo for almost a year with my family to research the writings of Ahmad Amin (1886-1954), an Egyptian writer and scholar whose works I hoped would help me to understand the current state of Islamic faith.

After another year at Harvard I took a position at Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa, where I taught from 1971 to 1978. Islam was not a popular topic in those days (before Khomeini!) and I found myself teaching much more about Hinduism and Buddhism, along with the Old Testament, than Islam. During this time I finished my doctoral dissertation and received my Ph. D., (1973). I also had a couple of opportunities to visit the Middle East again, including three months in Egypt in 1977 where I got to know an interesting group of young Islamists and first became aware of the “resurgence” of Islam. Other countries visited during these trips were Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran

I did not get tenure at Cornell but a position became available in New Zealand that would allow me to teach mainly about Islam at primarily the undergraduate level, nicely fitting my interests and abilities. It was an unexpected move but as a family we decided to go. Culturally New Zealand is similar to the U.S.in many ways but there are significant differences. We all had to make adjustments although it was easier me than for my wife and our children, who were then in high school.

The programme in religious studies was a small one, with four full time staff, part of a larger Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies. Most of my teaching related to Islam with some introductory teaching on Judaism and a few cross-cultural courses. Among other things, I taught a module on the religious dimensions of the Israel-Palestine situation, courses including Islam in modern Egypt and Iran, and at the higher levels, seminars on al-Ghazali and Sufism. I have also given extension studies courses and lectures to community groups. I was particularly in demand during my first year because of the Iranian revolution. As soon as I could I got to know the small Muslim community in Christchurch and a little later the larger community in Auckland and elsewhere. I have written a seversl articles about them; it has been interesting to watch the New Zealand Muslim community grow from less than two thousand when I first came to over 40 thousand now.

Since coming to New Zealand I have visited Egypt three more times, as well as Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, most of these more than once. In 1992 and 1999 I spoke at conferences in Tehran, once on human rights and once on Salman Rushdie. In 2000 I participated in a conference on “Anatolian Religion” in Turkey. I have twice visited the mausoleum of Mevlana Rumi. I have also visited Australia, England, France and the U.S. for study purposes, including several months at the McDonald Centre for Christian-Muslim relations in Hartford in 1985, and I attended the annual conferences of the American Academy of Religion and the Middle East Studies Association every two or three years until 2004.

I retired from teaching at the beginning of 1999 but I have continued my research and writing, producing a number of articles, encyclopedia/dictionary entries and books.
My major project since about 2006 has been my textbook, Introducing Islam, published in 2009 with a second editon in 2014. This has forced me to review and extend my knowledge of Islam considerably. Work on the second edition coincided with the earthquakes in Christchurch and their aftermath. This meant added pressure but it did sometimes take my mind off the difficulties of the situation. At present the future seems open.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    The main focus of my research for over 20 years has been the writings Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966), on whom I have written one book and contributed to two others, all of these involving primarily translation. Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism (Brill, 1996) is a complex translation of Qutb’s book, Social Justice in Islam, which undertakes to show the changes from one edition to another (there were six editions). I have also written several articles and book reviews relating to him. Recently I have written more generally on radical forms of Islamism. I have also written on the typology of Islamic ideologies and on comparisons of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism, and thus participated in the debate over the propriety of the term “fundamentalism” for Muslims. My doctoral dissertation (published as The Faith of a Modern Muslim Intellectual: The Religious Aspects and Implications of the Writings of Ahmad Amin, Indian Institute of Islamic Studies, l982.) was on a secular thinker, Ahmad Amin, and I have given some attention to other secular thinkers. My textbook, Introducing Islam, designed for university students, was published in 2009 and a second edition in 2014. I have also produced an eBook version published in 2010. I am now thinking about what projects to undertake in the future.

Personal Interests

    My personal interests revolve to a considerable degree around my family but I also enjoy reading and travelling (apart from professional activity) when I can. I am a coin collector interested particularly in modern coins of the world, what I pick up when I travel or persuade friend to pick up during their travels.