Saint Martin’s Spiritual Life Institute to explore Gnosticism

June 4, 2013

LACEY, Wash. – Students attending the 31st Annual Spiritual Life Institute (SLI) at Saint Martin’s University this summer will explore a wide variety of Christian beliefs and practices known as “Gnosticism.”

spirituallife “Gnosticism in Greco-Roman Egypt” will be the focus of a week-long discussion among students and an internationally known group of scholars on the history, beliefs and writings of Gnostic Christianity. This year’s session will be held June 24-28 on the University’s Lacey campus. Registration for the session is open to the public and individuals can register for the entire week or for daily classes. For Saint Martin’s students, SLI fulfills the University’s general education requirement for religious studies.

“Through a combination of daily lectures, readings and conversations with the guest speakers, the Spiritual Life Institute, a five-day, intensive learning program, will attempt to shed light on various esoteric, Christian movements that were eventually branded as heresies by normative Christianity,” says Ian Werrett, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies at Saint Martin’s, and director and lead instructor of the Spiritual Life Institute. “The ultimate goal of this program is to provide students with a greater appreciation for the diverse range of theological positions and interpretations that were held by various Christian communities between the first and fourth centuries of the Common Era.”

Gnosticism is a broad collection of teachings claiming, in part, that Jesus did not die on the cross and the god who created the world in six days, according to the Book of Genesis, was, in fact, a malevolent being, not the one true God of the universe. In 1945, nearly two millennia after Gnosticism was branded a heresy by the Church Fathers, the discovery of more than 50 Gnostic texts near the Egyptian community of Nag Hammadi has rekindled a discussion on the meaning and significance of Gnosticism.

The program will include three guest speakers: Jason BeDuhn, Ph.D., associate professor of religious studies at Northern Arizona University; Robert Kugler, Ph.D., the Paul S. Wright Professor of Christian Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon; and Michael Williams, Ph.D., professor of comparative religions at the University of Washington and author of Rethinking ‘Gnosticism’: An Argument for Dismantling a Problematic Category.

The final panel discussion, which is free and open to the public, will be held Friday, June 28, 7–8:30 p.m., and will address the topic, “Gnosticism in the Greco-Roman World.” Werrett, serving as master of ceremonies, will provide a brief introduction before asking the guest speakers to weigh in with their thoughts on a series of questions. After approximately one hour, the discussion will be directed to addressing questions from the audience.

Over the past three decades, the SLI has explored a wide range of topics designed to cultivate religious literacy, challenge preconceived notions and shed light upon the spiritual journey.

For more information on this year’s Institute, including the daily schedule and registration information, please visit

Saint Martin’s University is an independent four-year, coeducational university located on a wooded campus of more than 300 acres in Lacey, Washington. Established in 1895 by the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict, the University is one of 14 Benedictine colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. Saint Martin’s University prepares students for successful lives through its 23 majors and seven graduate programs spanning the liberal arts, business, education, nursing and engineering. Saint Martin’s welcomes more than 1,100 undergraduate students and 400 graduate students from many ethnic and religious backgrounds to its Lacey campus, and 300 more undergraduate students to its extension campuses located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Centralia College. Visit the Saint Martin’s University website at

For additional information:

Ian Werrett, Ph.D.
Associate professor of religious studies

Meg Nugent Dwyer
Media relations manager