Dr. Tamayo-Moraga

As I stepped into my first religion course at SCU, I was a little apprehensive. I was raised pretty liberally in terms of religion, so I was a little worried to be thrown into unchartered territory when it came to this class. I did not know yet that my professor, Dr. Tamayo-Moraga, would change my perspective on the study of religion for the better, on top of telling us some crazy stories! After day 1 of syllabus week, I immediately knew I wanted to interview her.

From doing research in Bologna, Italy and living in a convent, to teaching herself medieval Italian to study some obscure archives, to being the Faculty Director for the Unity RLC, she has pretty much done everything; including, spending her honeymoon on a train. Shortly after their wedding, she and her husband rode a train from San Jose to Seattle in December.

Dr. Tamayo-Moraga definitely has some interesting practices. On our first day in class, she had a unique way to memorize our names. She would come up to your face and stare at you while repeating your name fast and slow, then go through all of the names she had already memorized in song-like fashion. This practice, albeit eccentric, worked its magic because within the first 30 minutes she had already put all the names to faces. “Knowing people’s names is more important to me than not looking stupid. I’m willing to look like an idiot to remember everyone,” she said. She got the idea through her undergrad years at UT Austin where classes were too big for professors to remember the students’ names (300+ a class, yikes). Having 25 to 40 students, she thought that learning our names was an attainable goal. As a result, if you ever have the chance to take one of her courses, you will be stared at on the first day of class for a lengthy period of time. Don’t wear a hat because she will ask to do this with and without it!

I wanted to capture the Dr. Tamayo-Moraga students don’t know. First, she laughed a lot. If you have had her as a professor before, you know which laugh it is; a mix of Tinker-bell’s laugh and an opera singer warming up. It’s lovely. She then unveiled something exciting: she is a fantasy novel aficionado! “I love comics in the fantasy genre.” She states she was “obsessed” with Fables, a comic series telling the tales of fairytale/folklore characters in a modernized way. “I bought all the comics, the sidelines, and I even followed the author Bill Willingham,” she said as she described her obsession.

The discoveries don’t end here folks: Dr. Tamayo-Moraga admits to LOVING the Twilight series (I know!!! So sneaking this into my next paper!) and the series The Mortal Instruments, which is also Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy. Basically, she’s the coolest and most eclectic person you’ll ever meet.

We then moved on to the most beautiful place she’s travelled. Of course, it’s hard to pick when you are well-traveled, so she listed two: one locally and one abroad. Locally, she loves the “miraculous” Point Reyes national seashore, which “looks like a scene from Japan.” Her main answer though was Taormina, Sicily (which is one of the most INCREDIBLE towns ever). She recounts, “I cannot remember seeing a place more beautiful. It is a stunning city and the tourism has not ruined Taormina’s beauty which is very important to me.”

Because Dr. Tamayo-Moraga is such an insightful and inspiring person, I asked her some more serious questions, such as her crazy experiences with students (as it turns out, she gets yelled at a lot) and religion in current events. Specifically, we talked about how my generation can improve its ways and mindsets to avoid a World War III based on religion.

She highlighted two ideas. First off, it is important that we stop labeling each other with our religious affiliations. We are all human first and foremost, after all. “The heart of a person matters more than their doctrine… We need to learn how to connect heart to heart, rather than doctrine to doctrine”. She teaches in class that it is important to learn how to be open and understanding, without necessarily accepting. “We should not be doormats, but we should try our best to understand,” she added.

Lastly, she believes public education has a lot to do with today’s mindset. There are big gaps in education from region to region, which the Dr. hopes my generation would fix. “Not enough people are learning to think for themselves,” she warns. The American education system fails to teach all of its students the values of critical intelligence and openness, core values necessary for communicating and living alongside people who are very different from each other. She wishes that we would “start from a common ground and go from there [when meeting someone different from you], rather than starting from the differences.”