Dr. Stephen Lloyd-Moffett
Stephen Lloyd-Moffett started his career in business, but a visit to a monastery and a life-altering road trip led him to study and teach religion. | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Will Peischel

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The Holy Mountain commands the peninsula; it keeps constant watch over the Aegean Sea, where Turks and Greeks bicker over territorial bounds. The grey mountain rejects creeping Mediterranean greens, only kept company by 20 Eastern Orthodox monastic fortresses that tease cliff edges and protrude into the sea air.

There is no electricity on the isolated peninsula — murals of saints and simple work desks are illuminated by candlelight while monks live humbly.

Stephen Lloyd-Moffett came to the rock by ferry like anybody else who visits the ancient enclave of Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

He was 20, on a semester abroad, taking the chance to finally explore his interest in Greek philosophy and customs. Plus, Greece was sunny. So when an opportunity came for a field trip to an isolated monastic community, Lloyd-Moffett took it — mostly because it was a free trip.

He had no idea the trip would permanently alter his life.

Today, the professor and religious studies minor adviser is the only person on Cal Poly’s campus who looks right wearing a scarf; coupled with his his fiery red curls and glasses, the sum is somehow a humble demeanor.

He looks to that monastery trip as the spark that ignited his religious studies career.

“We entered into the (first) monastery and there was a monk there, and he said, ‘Welcome. I’m glad you’re here,’ and that was it,” Lloyd-Moffett said.

He paused, then continued:

“He turned around. He had this aura about him, and my friend and I, we were just awestruck by him. He didn’t say anything deep — but he had this joy that sort of exuded out and enveloped you. Neither of us had ever been in someone’s presence like this.”

That moment prompted Lloyd-Moffett, then a business student, to ask several questions about the monk’s lifestyle.

“We spent a little bit more time with him,” he said. “We were like, ‘I think this is the first truly happy person I’ve ever met.’ I didn’t know that this was what was possible in life.”

Lloyd-Moffett spent a few more days with the monks. It was his first experience with Greek Orthodox Christianity, and it made an impression.

“I came out of that and started to re-evaluate how I was seeing America because in my view so much of America had said, ‘In order to be happy, you’re supposed to have a career, make money, have a family,’ all of this sort of stuff,” Lloyd-Moffett said. “Here’s somebody who was generally happy who didn’t do any of those things.”

Lloyd-Moffett returned to the United States with a new mindset on the semantics of happiness. Initially, it didn’t change how he lived. He proceeded to enter the world of business, where he excelled and enjoyed himself. His work included Universal Music; the New Zealand Dairy Board; the workers’ compensation system for Victoria, Australia; and providing a helping hand in the world’s first Internet study.

Lloyd-Moffett saw a business career as a game of sorts, which is why he excelled — and also why he stopped.

“Games are really fun,” he said. “I like playing basketball or I like playing games. You just don’t want to spend your whole life on it. With that, my roommate and I were like, ‘We need a journey to figure out life.’ And so we picked a place, which was Tierra del Fuego, and we were just going to head south.”

With that, they embarked on a road trip to the bottom of the new world. They instated only two rules for the journey: they would only leave a place when they were both ready, and south was the only direction they would go. Almost a year and $8,000 later, they reached the archipelago that overlooks the rendezvous of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans on the foot of Chile and Argentina.

There, they found their answer.

“We got as far south as we could drive and we’re like, ‘Why did we do this?’” Lloyd-Moffett said, laughing. “Like most young people trying to figure out life, we just said, ‘Let’s drink all night.’ One of the things we sort of realized at this epic ending of this journey was in the end, it was just a place to go. It’s just the end of the road, but what was meaningful was all of the adventures we had on the way. The times we got arrested, the times we broke down, the times when we broke up with women in our lives and got together with new ones and broke up with them. All the times we were sick, all of that stuff, those are the trials you do on such an epic journey.”

Today, decades later, Lloyd-Moffett still has the 1981 Toyota Landcruiser that took him on that journey.

Upon his return to real life, Lloyd-Moffett racked up three additional degrees and two trips back to the Greek monks before sinking into teaching. While finishing a dissertation for a PhD from UC Santa Barbara, he helped revitalize the religious studies program at CSU Bakersfield.

Then it was time for something new.

He recalled: “My partner and I said at the time, ‘Hey. Where would you ever want to go?’ I was into wine and we’re from Washington. So it was either Walla Walla or San Luis Obispo.”

San Luis Obispo had a job opening.

In 2005, Lloyd-Moffett came to Cal Poly, where he was given the task of constructing the religious studies minor. The track remains under the radar — but since its humble beginnings of a single student choosing in the minor, the program has evolved to a healthy 75 students.

Among his students, Lloyd-Moffett is held in high regard as a fascinating, relentless lecturer. According to graduate biological sciences student Naiyerah Kolkailah, his classes aren’t for the faint of heart — but there’s a pay off.

“He’s a very challenging professor,” Kolkailah said. “The courses aren’t really easy, and there’s a lot of understanding and historical basis and things you have to really spend time learning and understanding. I think that’s important, because a lot of times when we interact with peoples’ faith or understanding of peoples’ different ways of life and religion, it can be very superficial and very shallow.”

To ensure an objective attitude toward all faiths, Lloyd-Moffett has adopted an “agnostic” approach to each religion he teaches in the classroom. This has led to speculation among his students about his own faith. For a man so filled with spiritual knowledge, the enigmatic approach is his weapon of choice.

“You wouldn’t even know what faith he was, and I didn’t know for the longest time,” said Kolkailah, who’s completed the minor. “But he would present from within the faith, as if he was part of that faith, by showing how the people who live that experience actually practiced their own faith without trying to shame it or show negatives or really push for it.”

One of Lloyd-Moffett’s many passions is early Christian hermitism and in extension, asceticism, or the abstinence from self-indulgence in pursuit of a religious goal. On his successive returns to Mount Athos, he lived with the cave monks, who consider even the lives of the monastic monks on the peninsula “lavish.”

Currently, Lloyd-Moffett lives in The Lavra, a miniature community that takes cues from Palestinian communal living. The housing experiment upholds a shared space and community-focus as cornerstones without going against the flow of contemporary living. Each tenant has a private abode, with a community house and farm to provide for the property.

When English junior Harrison Trubitt drove up a road flanked by eucalyptus trees on either side for a dinner at his professor’s home, he didn’t know what to expect.

“You’re in the middle of nowhere and then you go up a dirt hill and see these Nepal prayer flags and you think, ‘Well, this is probably where we’re going,’” Trubitt said.

As far as Trubitt knew, Lloyd-Moffett lived alone. Trubitt entered a large, well-furnished house and began enjoying a dinner with the rest of Lloyd-Moffett’s guests when things took a sudden turn.

“The lights go out and these four 25-year-old women come out of nowhere and are like, ‘Stephen! You used all the well water!’” Trubitt said. “And we’re like, ‘What is going on? This makes no sense.’ So then he explained to us the community.”

Lloyd-Moffett gave them the tour, including of the small living quarters he built for himself, rectangular in shape, the single room uses an entire wall as a door; the 20-foot glass sheet gives the impression of a bathroom shower.

“Everyone else on the property lives in yurts,” Trubitt said. “I’ll never forget that he talked about how far away his neighbors lived based off of number of trees away they lived. It was kind of crazy.”

According to Lloyd-Moffett, The Lavra hasn’t been perfect, but it’s sustainable, alternative and rooted in a degree of asceticism that helps guide to happiness. Like everything else about the man, he’s probably given it a considerable amount of quiet thought.

The Lavra may be Lloyd-Moffett’s preferred abode for the moment, but someone who’s traveled to over 45 countries is nomadic in nature. For now, his students are just happy the wisdom, scarf and tranquil voice are just a few trees away.

Concerning his personal faith, you’ll just have to take a class and make a guess like the rest of his students.

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