Another of his books, The Letter of Paul: Conversations in Context, is a key resource for students studying the New Testament.
After receiving his B.D. from Perkins School of Theology, and his PhD from Duke University, Professor Roetzel went on to teach in the Religious Studies department at Macalester College. Then in 2005 he became the Sundet Professor of New Testament Studies in the CNES Department here at the U of M. In the fall of 2007 he organized an international conference on the topic of Sanctified Violence.
A driving force behind the new Religious Studies major, Professor Roetzel is a valuable asset to its continuing growth and success. He is known on campus for his sense of humor, kind heart, and tireless care for his students.
You are known for your work on the Apostle Paul. What first sparked your interest?
"When I was in graduate school, I was married and we had two children. I had to have a topic I could finish within a year, and I knew [Paul's] letters were full of problems. So it was easy to find a problem to work on. Once I got into him, I was hooked. I was fascinated by his fertile mind, the kinds of issue he was dealing with, his impact on this new religious movement [Christianity], and the ongoing sense of damage that can be done by interpreting [Paul] wrong."
What are you currently working on?
"I just finished the 5th edition of The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context. It was first published in '75 for undergraduates who had not a clue how to read letters that are 2000 years old, and it still has a life.
Lately, my interests have been turning towards how power is understood in the ancient world, how it's dealt with, and devices for survival in situations where people are oppressed. A conference we held in the fall of '07 dealt entirely with this question.
For almost a generation, I've been working on the process of law - such a critical issue for today's world. Next year I'll be on leave working on a project that deals with law, something that has interested me for 20 years."
Why do you think the study of religion is important in today's world?
"The world today has been shrunk by travel and technology. It seems to me that in order to be a good citizen of that world, one needs to know something about religion. So many fields are touched or informed by some sort of religious assumptions. Think about law, environmental science, and language used in medicine. They all have strong religious overtones."
What advice can you offer to those who decide to pursue a career in Religious Studies?
"The same advice I would give to a student of English, History, Art, or any other. An undergraduate degree is not designed to be the culminating degree of one's career. Many of my students have gone into law, medicine, nursing, carpentry, and even nuclear science. An undergraduate degree is something that will help you evolve, involve, and understand a wider world. "
What's been most rewarding about teaching Religious Studies at the University of Minnesota?
"Seeing what happens to your students is the most rewarding part of not just teaching Religious Studies, but of teaching, period. Watching people make enormous progress intellectually, seeing them do great things, and staying in touch over the years - if you had some little part in that, it makes you very happy. And it's not only the best students, but also those who have overcome incredible difficulties to achieve great things. To see human growth is most rewarding.
With the economy struggling, people talk about money invested in the stock market and retirement, but it's infinitely more important to invest in human life. Those assets never go down. And I feel so fortunate to have had some role to play in that."