Last Thursday, Westmont partnered with UCSB to host the renowned biblical scholar, Dr. John Dominic Crossan. In the Global Leadership Center (GLC), the DePaul University professor emeritus discussed the apostle Paul’s subversion of the Roman theological practices which dominated the first century.
Crossan made a name for himself in the late 20th century through his involvement with the Jesus Seminar, a group of academics who sought to judge the legitimacy of the historical Jesus. The Irish-American scholar spent most of his career following this path, researching the historical nature of the New Testament, primarily through Paul.
In his lecture, Crossan explained that Paul’s letters were easy to understand if readers first understood Roman imperial theology. The Romans viewed the world within a cycle of religion, war, victory, and peace, believing that peace was achieved only through violence and hierarchy. Crossen argues that Paul wrote to subvert these Roman ideals, the scholar contending that the apostle was purposely juxtaposing the empirical “peace through victory” with Christ’s “peace through justice.” Effectively, Paul’s overall goal was to reach an “annihilation of hierarchy.”
Crossan’s lecture included a powerpoint video of Roman images, a close reading of Galatians and Philemon, and a question-and-answer session at the end, all of which celebrated Paul’s radical and subversive letters. “One of the greatest things Paul did was write,” shared Crossen towards the end of the session. This writing was treasonous, usurping the trusted order of its time, but it promoted non-violence and a breakdown of socially-oppressive systems.
Lectures like Crossan’s are a prominent feature of the ongoing relationship being fostered by UCSB and Westmont. Dr. Holly Beers, a Westmont religious studies professor, explained that the faculties between the two departments collaborate to pick a speaker and location, meeting for a friendly dinner after the event each year. This year’s event was headed by UCSB’s Dr. Christine Thomas and Westmont’s Dr. Helen Rhee.
This cross-institutional relationship presents a great opportunity for Westmont students to expose themselves to new or unfamiliar ideas and expressions of faith. Dr. Beers explained that Crossan’s lecture offered students a chance to engage with “a non-traditional Catholic view of Paul and Christ,” in that Crossan, although identifying as Catholic, holds beliefs outside of orthodoxy. Nathan Tudor, a senior religious studies major, echoed Dr. Beers’s view in a recent interview. “Westmont has done an amazing job integrating faith and biblical studies responsibly,” shared Tudor, “but it would be fascinating to hear more people beyond Westmont’s confessional statement.” Crossan exemplified a nuanced voice that allowed Westmont to consider different ideas outside of its own homogeneous beliefs.
Dr. John Dominic Crossan’s lecture on Thursday created an opportunity for Westmont to engage with UCSB’s academic community while also hearing from a giant in the field of biblical studies. As Tudor explained in his interview, hosting such a figure will hopefully “create more clout and funding opportunities” for the college.