If it’s Monday, Associate Professor Ron Large is teaching sex.
On Tuesday, it’s war.
His classes are part of the religious studies program at Gonzaga University, and students love them.
“You really shouldn’t come out of Gonzaga without taking Large,” said Janine Doucette, a senior in the class on war and morality.
If anything, Large proves the study of religion at GU is a lot more than Catholic dogma. He explores provocative subjects in a dispassionate way, and in doing so, he gives students an understanding of how the culture evolved.
“My goal is to tell students how traditions have developed and for what reasons,” Large said.
The first of the two classes is called “Christian Sexual Morality.” The other is “Vietnam: War and Christian Morality.”
“What is education?” Large asked. “It has to do with the formation of values.”
The classes fill up fast, and often students put their names on waiting lists each semester. Both classes can be used to satisfy graduation requirements for religious studies.
Large is a little puzzled by his popularity. He said he likes the give-and-take of the classroom and tries to treat students as equals, but doesn’t view himself as different from other professors.
At 44, Large is a little outside the mold on this Jesuit campus. He came to GU in 1988 as the first non-Catholic in the religious studies department. There are others now.
The fact non-Catholics teach religious studies is an indication of Gonzaga’s effort to show a broad view of the world, said Pete Tormey, university spokesman.
Large, an Episcopalian, earned his master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1975. He taught and studied for 10 more years before earning his doctorate from Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., in 1985.
During the late 1960s, he tried to become a conscientious objector to stay out of Vietnam. As it turned out, he never was called in the draft.
While his personal views lean to the left, Large said, he maintains an intellectual balance in the classroom by offering students a variety of viewpoints.
His classes draw from history, philosophy, literature, sociology and the other liberal arts. The result is an intriguing fabric of ideas.
There’s no doubt sex and war are subjects deeply imbedded in the Christian tradition, or any cultural tradition for that matter.
The Bible does not offer a lot of specific guidance on sexuality, Large told students last week.
Many current Christian principles evolved since the New Testament was written.
Over the centuries, sexual desire was linked to lesser instincts. As such, it was seen as intrinsically evil.
But sex is OK if linked to greater goods, generally viewed as faithful marriage and having children.
Controversies surrounding birth control, extramarital sex and homosexuality arise because those practices fall outside those basic tenets of morality, Large said.
On the subject of marriage, Large uses one essay to point out that equality between men and women is essential in a Christian context because all are equal in God’s eyes.
“I’m enjoying this class immensely,” said Sister Ema gene Warren, who works for Catholic Family Services in Spokane and is studying at GU.
She said she grew up when sexuality was seldom discussed and attitudes toward sex were repressive. She said the open discussion is like a breath of fresh air.
“I think the students particularly like him,” said Professor James Dallen, chairman of the religious studies department.
Dallen said topics like sexual morality and Vietnam provide lively avenues for the study of Christian tradition.
War is loaded with cultural meaning. Patriotism, heroes and myths come from it. For example, the story of George Washington crossing the Delaware is told to illustrate bravery.
America is a country that long has believed in its rightness and destiny, and that view is rooted in its Christian tradition, Large said.
The effort to stop the spread of communism in Vietnam stemmed from this country’s view of its own rightness, he said.
But the Vietnam War rended the nation’s psyche because the political opposition had the effect of challenging basic cultural tenets, Large said.
Soldiers who distinguished themselves in battle in Vietnam were denied status as heroes, and the rightness of America was being diminished.
The study of war raises some interesting issues, Large said. At what point is killing justified? Is it OK to kill civilians?
Under the Christian tradition, killing is justified to protect a society or nation, as opposed to an individual taking another’s life, Large told his students.
Indiscriminate bombing poses a moral problem because it involves killing innocent civilians. However, if civilians are killed as an unintended result of target bombing, then it may be viewed as justified, he said.
The class is popular with students in ROTC.
Large recommended his students view movies like “Rambo” and “Platoon” to understand how popular culture defines America’s understanding of Vietnam.
In that sense, the examination of Vietnam becomes an exercise intended to illuminate current cultural truths.
“We do teach religion as an academic discipline,” said Professor Dallen. “It’s not a matter of indoctrination or a glorified Sunday school.”