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Professor of Religious Studies

Professor Emeritus



John Albert Saliba was born in Valletta, Malta in April 1937. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1954 at eighteen and was ordained a priest on July 7, 1965 in England.   He received his Licentiate in Philosophy from Heythrop College, England in 1960 and his diploma in Social Anthropology from Oxford University in 1962. In 1966 he returned to Heythrop College for his Licentiate in Theology and in 1971 he completed his doctoral work in Religious Education at the Catholic University in Washington, D. C. Fr. Saliba’s dissertation was entitled: Homo Religiosus in Mircea Eliade: An Anthropological Evaluation.
Fr. Saliba taught secondary school at St. Aloyisius College School in Birkirkara, Malta in 1960-61. While studying at Catholic University he worked as a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Religious Studies from 1967 to 1970. He first joined the faculty of the University of Detroit’s Department of Religious Studies in 1970. The following year he was named assistant professor at U. of D., in 1976 associate professor, and in 1988 a full professor.
Fr. Saliba also served as a visiting professor, first at Catholic University where he taught “Christianity and World Religions” in the summer of 1974, and then at Sienna Heights College in Adrian, Michigan where he taught “Liturgy and Culture” during the summer of 1976.
During his years at the University of Detroit and the University of Detroit Mercy, Fr. Saliba taught a wide variety of courses in religious studies including: Western Religions, Eastern Religions, Islam, Christianity and World Religions, Contemporary Religious Movements, Sociocultural Anthropology, Theories of Myths, Occult Movements in Western Culture, Liturgy and Culture, and more.
Fr. Saliba served the Religious Studies Department on the Rank and Tenure Committee, as a graduate student advisor, and as library liaison among other duties. He also served in various campus ministries and in both the alumni and public relations offices for the university at large.
In addition to his university duties, Fr. Saliba was engaged in several research sabbaticals over the years: In 1979-80 at the Graduate Theological Union’s Center for the Study of New Religious Movements in Oakland, California. In 1985-86 at the Institute for the Study of American Religion at the University of California at Santa Barbara, as well as at the Library of Congress in Washington, D. C. and the National Medical Library in Rockville, Maryland on the subject of Psychiatry and Cults. In 1990-91 as a research fellow at the Santa Barbara Center for Humanistic Studies and at the Institute of American Religions also in Santa Barbara. And in 1995-96 at the Library of Congress and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California for a book on the New Age.
In 1979-80 while on sabbatical in California, Fr. Saliba took time to work with Dr. Lowell Streiker at the Freedom Counseling Center in Burlingame – a center specializing in the counseling of cult members, ex-cult members, and their families.
Fr. Saliba became known as one of the nation’s authorities in the area of cults, the new age, and new religious movements. Over the years –particularly in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s—Fr. Saliba was frequently interviewed as an expert in these areas in both the local and national press, and on local and national radio and television. His articles on cults, the new age, and heterodox religious movements have appeared in newspapers and journals worldwide. He also served as a consultant on these matters to PBS, CNN, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Fr. Saliba’s books include Perspectives on New Religious Movements (also published under the title Understanding New Religious Movements) (1996), Signs of the Times: The New Religious Movements in Theological Perspective (1996), Christian Responses to the New Age Movement: A Critical Assessment (1999), and Understanding New Religious Movements (2003). Fr. Saliba also authored two massive annotated bibliographies on scholarly literature about cults and sects: Psychiatry and the Cults (1987), and Social Sciences and the Cults (1990).
Over the years, Fr. Saliba wrote numerous scholarly articles for a wide variety of publications, sourcebooks, and anthologies including: “The New Ethnography and the Study of Religion,”  Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (1974); “Eliade’s View of Primitive Man: Some Anthropological Reflections,” Religion: Journal of Religion and Religions (1976); “Religion and the Anthropologists: 1960-1976, Anthropologica (part I 1976, part II 1977); “The Guru: Perceptions of American Devotees of the Divine Light Mission,”Horizons: Journal of the College Theology Society (1980); “The Christian Response to the New Religions,”Journal of Ecumenical Studies (1981); “The Christian Church and the New Religious Movements, ”Theological Studies (1982); “Psychiatry and the Cults,” Academic Psychology Bulletin (part I and part II 1985); “Learning from New Religious Movements,”Thought: A Journal of Culture and Idea (1986); “The UFO Contactee Phenomenon from a Sociopsychological Perspective: A Review,” Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture (1992); “A Christian Response to the New Age,”The Way (1993); “Understanding New Religious Sects in America,” Bulletin of the Royal Institute of Inter-Faith Studies (1999); “The Earth is a Dangerous Place: The Worldview of the Aetherius Society,” Marburg Journal of Religion (1999); “UFOs and Religion,” Encyclopedic Sourcebook of UFO Religions (2003); “Cults: An Overview,” Cults (2000); “Aetherius Society,” UFOs and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth (2000) and also in Odd Gods: New Religions and the Cult Controversy (2001); “Native American Church,” “Aetherius Society,” “Silva Mind Control,” “The Peoples Temple,” all in New Religions: A Guide (2004); “Psychology and the New Religious Movements,” The Oxford Handbook of New Religions Movements (2004); “Disciplinary Perspectives on New Religious Movements: Views from the Humanities and Social Sciences,”Teaching New Religious Movements (2007) and many, many more.
In spite of his extensive work as an educator, researcher, and author, Fr. Saliba was first and foremost dedicated to his vocation to the priesthood. Throughout his many years at U. of D. and UDM he would frequently celebrate Sunday Mass at one of the parishes in the archdiocese and, from the early nineties on, Fr. Saliba spent his summers in pastoral ministry at St. Francis Xavier parish in Phoenix, Arizona.
Fr. Saliba’s professional affiliations included the American Academy of Religion, the Society for the Study of Religion, the Association for the Sociology of Religion, and the International Conference for the Sociology of Religion. Fr. Saliba was recognized in the Directory of American Scholars, International Who’s Who in Education, Who’s Who in Religion, Who’s Who in America, and was nominated as “International Man of the Year for 1992-93” in Men of Achievement.
Fr. Saliba retired from the full-time faculty of the Religious Studies Department of UDM in 2007 after 37 years. Even after retirement, Fr. Saliba continued teaching one course each term on an adjunct basis.  He was honored with Professor Emeritus of University of Detroit Mercy on August 16, 2011 by President Antoine M. Garibaldi, Ph.D.

University of Detroit Mercy

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