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KNOXVILLE — Two noted scholars of religion will lead a discussion about Christianity in the Middle East at the International House on Nov. 18.

The forum, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 6:45 to 8:30 p.m., and participants are asked to be seated by 6:30 p.m. A reception will follow.

Jesus lived and taught in what we now call the Middle East, and the New Testament describes how his followers in that region first spread his teachings and were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). While a history of religious schisms and political conquests has left many Americans unfamiliar with Christianity’s long history in the Middle East, Christians there continue their rich and ancient traditions to this day.

Panelists for this forum are Christine Shepardson, associate professor of early Christianity in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the Very Rev. Father Paul Tarazi, professor of the Old Testament at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. The forum will be moderated by the Rev. Stephen Freeman of the St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge.

Shepardson received her doctorate in early Christianity from Duke University, and regularly publishes and speaks on early Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean. Her first book, “Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem’s Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria” was published in 2008, and she is currently writing her second book, “Controlling Contested Places: Fourth-Century Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy.”

Shepardson was a 2008 recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend, and of a Franklin Research Grant from the American Philosophical Society. She currently holds a 2009-10 fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies, and she just received an Individual Grant from the American Academy of Religion to continue her current research in southern Turkey.

Tarazi also has taught at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., and at St. John of Damascus Institute in Balamand, Lebanon.

His publications include biblical commentaries on 1 Thessalonians and Galatians, a three-volume introduction to the Old Testament, a four-volume introduction to the New Testament and numerous scholarly articles. His book, “Land and Covenant,” published this year, addresses the root cause of Palestinian suffering — and Middle Eastern strife generally — through a comprehensive analysis of the biblical story.

Tarazi travels widely to speak about scripture and related topics, and has represented the Orthodox Church at ecumenical gatherings.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,