For the first time in three years, Jesus Christ will return to Cal Poly’s campus in the form of a class. In the coming spring quarter, professor Stephen Lloyd-Moffett will teach RELS 205, simply titled “Jesus,” through Religious Studies in the Philosophy Department. The class doesn’t fulfill any prerequisites or degree progression, except for those with a religious studies minor. However, according to Lloyd-Moffett, the class fills every time he teaches it.
Given the prominent role Jesus plays in American culture and the proportion of students who consider him an important aspect of their lives, Lloyd-Moffett decided an in-depth class on the man himself was necessary.
“A lot of people do more research on their next iPhone than they do for whom is most important in their life,” Lloyd-Moffett said. “So what I wanted to do was create a course that sort of downloads everything we know about Jesus, everything we know about the sources, everything we know about his time, everything we know about what historians can say about who Jesus is.”
The importance of critically analyzing sources points to Lloyd-Moffett’s clear mentality about teaching religion in a classroom, a theme and place that demand a tight line be walked. Lloyd-Moffett does not advocate the religion he teaches, and tries to keep his personal views hidden from student perception. The courseware reflects that.
“Fortunately for a course, Jesus is the most studied person in history — so we’ve got a lot to work with,” he said. “There’s still a lot of controversies on him, of course, but where there are major controversies in history, what I tend to do is say, ‘Okay, here are all of the arguments for, here are all of the arguments against. You can decide for yourself.’”
Lloyd-Moffett says that people from all religious backgrounds enroll in the class, which makes for a myriad of different views. This means the class dialogue isn’t one-sided, which might be assumed about a class that teaches a specific religion.
“Certainly there are a lot of Christians in the course, and on top of that Muslims and others who venerate Jesus in a different way,” he said. “Then there are also the vocal Evangelical Atheists who really want to know what they’re arguing against. Then the people in between,” those who Lloyd-Moffett said, “don’t know what to believe. They’ve never been to church but aren’t opposed to him.”
Additionally, much of what Lloyd-Moffett teaches in “Jesus” challenges the popularly-held beliefs students have of the figure. Lloyd-Moffett says people often overlook the Judaism from which Jesus came from, ignore the process which created the Bible and don’t necessarily look at the historical context in which Jesus taught.
“A lot of the misconceptions that both Christians and non-Christians hold are projecting upon Jesus’ time things from our contemporary era,” he said.
That’s an essential element of all of Lloyd-Moffett’s classes. Students will walk away from his course, prepared to challenge the ignorant views of religion — in whatever direction — that people in the world might have.
English senior Harrison Trubitt took the “Jesus” class when he was a freshman, the last time it was available to students. Trubitt said the ability to artfully challenge misconceptions and hateful views is a useful skill Lloyd-Moffett’s class gave him.
“He wanted to give you every single tool that you can have,” Trubitt said. “When it’s over and you’re standing in line at the keg in the party and someone in front of you says, ‘Jesus hated all the Jews,’ you can step in and say, ‘You’re so wrong. Here is what is actually true.’”
Trubitt is Catholic. He said the class challenged his own belief system, which has been a serious part of his life for its entirety. With that challenge, though, came a reinforced spiritual view. Trubitt said that the ability to critically analyze one’s own faith is essential to its validity.
Lloyd-Moffett’s classes serve not just to teach the primary religious subject, but also to open students’ eyes to religion in general. Josh Newport graduated from Cal Poly last spring with a degree in business administration and took several of Lloyd-Moffett’s classes as a student. According to Newport, religious studies courses made him want to participate in the world’s ongoing religious dialogue.
“I kind of opened my eyes to this whole world of religion,” Newport said. “I felt that everyone (had) a very biased, manufactured view that’s created by their life. Taking his class kind of scrapped that. It made me much more interested in different religions and accepting of the different views.”
Lloyd-Moffett is ready to set the record straight on the most talked about guy in human history. He says he’ll take as many students as he can on the class journey.
Ready or not, here comes Jesus Christ.