Anyone arriving at the first day of Kevin Barrett's class expecting conspiratorial rhetoric was disappointed.
During the opening of the controversial lecturer's class on Islam on Tuesday, Barrett stuck to the basics of the religion. But he also tossed out some one-liners that got people laughing.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began. "Students, auditors and journalists. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories 370." The room erupted in applause before he shouted "Not!"
Getting real, he added: "This is a class on the religion and culture of Islam."
Barrett has come under criticism for his belief that some top U.S. government officials orchestrated the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Republican lawmakers have sought to get him fired from his temporary lecturer position. Provost Patrick Farrell, after reviewing the course, gave the go-ahead this summer for Barrett to teach, receiving assurances Barrett would not use the class to sway students to his point of view.
Barrett is expected to discuss the Sept. 11 attacks as well as the war on terror during two weeks in November. He said the issues would be limited to those classes to prevent any distractions.
On Tuesday, Barrett talked about the fundamentals of Islam and the course. The religion is the fastest growing in the world, as well as the United States, he said. There will be jobs for people who understand Islam and know how to interact with Muslims.
"You will learn something in this class that will have some career potential for you, which is rare among the humanities," he quipped.
He focused on religion and culture. In talking about religion, he asked students for definitions and wrote several words on the blackboard: belief, structure, control, symbol, rules, code, and morality.
And in talking about culture, he said that looking at the world through a different culture helps give people a better view of their own.
He acknowledged his own Muslim faith, to which he converted about 13 years ago.
"I'm an Irish Muslim myself. We're not going to even talk about that," Barrett said, cracking up the class with an affected Irish accent.
Students said in interviews that they enjoyed the lecture.
Courtney Schiesher, a senior from Chicago, said Barrett was a lively lecturer. She said his personal views on the terrorist attacks do not sour her toward him.
"If he thinks that far outside the box, he also has some other interesting ideas to provoke student discussion," she said. "I'm looking forward to attending the rest of the classes."
And Melissa Patenaude, a sophomore from Green Bay, said she enjoyed Barrett's light approach to the subject material.
"It doesn't bother me as long as he doesn't try to push that upon us," Patenaude said of his personal views. "The class shouldn't really be about that."
Islam says people came from God, and to God they will return, Barrett said during the lecture.
"That's the thing about these great questions. They go round and round, but they don't go away," Barrett said.