All Cal Poly students, regardless of major, have to take a certain amount of liberal arts classes in order to graduate. Among the various English and philosophy lectures are courses on religion: Monotheisms, Jesus, Religion & Violence and Buddhism, to name a few. If you decide to take a class in Religious Studies – and you should seriously consider at least one – chances are Dr. Stephen Lloyd-Moffett will be teaching it.
Dr. Lloyd-Moffett is a prominent professor here at Cal Poly. He teaches many more classes than most professors tend to, and is actively involved both on- and off-campus. Her Campus Cal Poly had the opportunity to get to know him better, so we scoped his thoughts on religion, life and the current political climate.
HCCP: A little bit of background first: Where did you grow up? What schools did you attend? Family life?
SLM: I grew up in Seattle and I didn’t have plans to study religion. I studied economics and film studies at University, but then I became fascinated with monks and begin to travel to different monasteries; it was really through those travels that I begin to seriously look at religion. I went to Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles and then worked as a Management Consultant for Boston Consulting Group, which is a big business consulting company. I spent much of my 20s traveling, and by the time I was 30, I had been to over 50 countries.
As a result, much of my initial knowledge about religion came experientially as I witnessed different religions in their natural environments. I was fortunate to speak with religious leaders from so many different religions, and they were generous with their wisdom and patience with my naivete.
I spent a year driving down to South America with my roommate on a journey that was designed for us to figure out our lives. After that, I returned and started graduate school in religious studies. I did a masters of religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which is one of the best programs. I also did a masters of theology at St. Vladimir’s in New York, which is one of the best places for early Christianity. Then I did a Ph.D. in religious studies at the UCSB.
What do you teach on campus? Are you involved in any campus organizations or clubs?
I teach 12 different classes on campus, which is rather odd for a professor. But I teach a number of different religions and different ways that religion influenced society. I have been the club advisor for many clubs such as the Muslim Student Association, the Religious Studies Club and the Orthodox Christian Student Club.
Do you teach other subjects? Do you have a specialty?
Everything I teach relates to religion, though I do teach classes on religion and wine, and on Israeli-Palestinian conflict which touches upon other subjects as well.
How did you get involved with studying different religions? How did you decide to become a professor of religion?
After seeing so many religions in practice and talking with so many religious people, I realized that I needed to have the background to know what I was talking about. I needed to have the languages and know all the histories of these religions. So that is when the study of religion shifted from just a personal interest to a career.
I have never felt that teaching religion has been a job because I would do it even if I wasn’t being paid. I take it as a great privilege to get to talk about meaningful things all day long and follow where my interests are. Also, I find that the life of a professor can be very balanced; I can teach, make my own wine, farm and be very involved in my local community while still having a career.
What about religion intrigues or inspires you?
To me, religions deal with the most foundational questions of life, such as “why do we exist?” “What happens to us when we die?” “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?” And so many other questions. I know people who are intelligent and of good will who come up with very different answers, so part of understanding humans and our own path is trying to get at the root of these fundamental questions.
What about religion bothers or confuses you?
I think what bothers me is when people claim that religion is very important to them, yet they don’t take the time to really understand it or adequately prepare themselves to grow in their relationship to their religion. Why most people spend more time picking an iPhone than a religion, it seems like there is a problem.
How do you see society’s reactions towards religion?
Religion has inspired some of the most amazing things that humans have done and some of the most horrific things that humans have done. If one wants to find the negative streak of religion, it is not hard; however, if one wants to see all the good religion does, that’s not hard either. All of us have a choice to harness religion for good or harness religion for harm.
In a politically divisive climate in America, we’re seeing a group of people singled out, largely due to their religious beliefs. What are your thoughts on that?
The problem is that Muslims are being signaled out because the vast majority of America chooses to remain ignorant about Islam and rather let their fear dictate their beliefs. I spend a lot of time on this, and I understand that the fear is real, but America is creating policies grounded in fear rather than knowledge. And so often those come to backfire.