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Philosophy and Religious Studies

The Philosophy and Religious Studies Department equips students with the means to critically examine notions about humanity, its place within the universe, and human understandings and experiences of existential realities. Its course offerings share a common commitment to the reasoned and respectful exploration of beliefs and issues crucial to human existence and to the development of the student’s capacity to comprehend and evaluate questions that pertain to life, what gives life meaning, truth, and reality.

Religious literacy is a central component of preparatory education in an increasingly connected and global society. The Department aspires to foster a more humane, aware, and conscientious student and it neither presumes nor promotes the particular ideals and values of any single system of belief. Courses in the department compel students to reflect actively upon responsible, consciousness-raising education as a component of meaningful social diversification and their overall intellectual and personal formation. 

Students must complete a minimum of any one-term departmental course offering as a diploma requirement.
  • Ethics (F)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. How do people make ethical decisions? What moral frameworks help individuals and societies discern right from wrong? How can ethical theories be applied to contemporary situations that require moral clarity? This course is a survey of issues in applied ethics in which we explore the ideas of leading contemporary moral philosophers and ethicists; we deliberate case simulations that put different values into conflict; and we practice strategies for generating meaningful dialogue on contentious issues. We explore virtue ethics, personal and human rights, religious ethics, ethics of happiness, care and relationship ethics, and interpersonal communication, among other themes. Applied case simulations address environmental ethics, abortion and euthanasia, social justice, justice systems and capital punishment, media and corporate ethics, and more. Students create podcasts, opinion pieces, original case simulations, and write reviews of new books on themes related to applied ethics.
  • Ethics (W)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. How do people make ethical decisions? What moral frameworks help individuals and societies discern right from wrong? How can ethical theories be applied to contemporary situations that require moral clarity? This course is a survey of issues in applied ethics in which we explore the ideas of leading contemporary moral philosophers and ethicists; we deliberate case simulations that put different values into conflict; and we practice strategies for generating meaningful dialogue on contentious issues. We explore virtue ethics, personal and human rights, religious ethics, ethics of happiness, care and relationship ethics, and interpersonal communication, among other themes. Applied case simulations address environmental ethics, abortion and euthanasia, social justice, justice systems and capital punishment, media and corporate ethics, and more. Students create podcasts, opinion pieces, original case simulations, and write reviews of new books on themes related to applied ethics.
  • Foundations of Global History (Y)

    Taught jointly by the Philosophy and Religious Studies Department and the History and Social Sciences Department, this course surveys the histories and cultures that have shaped world civilizations and supports students in gaining the requisite skills, intercultural knowledge, and experience for success in the humanities. Global in scope, the course surveys peoples and histories of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Mediterranean. Societies studied include Angkor, Athens, Babylon, Cahokia, Chichén Itzá, China, Egypt, Great Zimbabwe, Kilwa, Kush, India, Japan, Korea, Mali, Rome, Srivijaya, Yoruba, and more. The course considers a plurality of religious and philosophical traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shinto, Sikhism, and Vodun. The course develops students’ skills for note-taking, critical inquiry, academic dialogue, and analytical writing. In order to prepare students for the Upper School history research paper requirements, one term will feature assessments specifically designed to help students discover, interpret, evaluate, synthesize, and cite scholarly resources.
  • Islamic Ethics (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course is an introduction to the topic of ethics in Islamic intellectual history. Themes covered include gender relations, concepts of just warfare, racial equality, approaches to poverty, environmentalism, and Islamic virtue ethics. How do Muslims, individually and as social collectives, seek to live righteously, peacefully, and productively by articulating and applying ethical principles derived from Islamic foundational sources? How do principles in Islamic ethics compare and contrast to other ethical frameworks? What are common misunderstandings related to Sharia, or Islamic law? In answering these questions, attention is given to Muslim conceptions of justice and to the relationship between social norms and law in historical and contemporary contexts. A basic exposure to classical Arabic script and a basic working knowledge of the religion of Islam are helpful but not required.
  • Islamic Studies: Cultural and Linguistic Explorations (W)

    Open Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course offers an in-depth exploration of Islamic foundational texts and principles as manifest in different cultural contexts. We consider passages of the Qur’an, hadith sayings, wisdom literature, philosophical texts, legal maxims, and contemporary devotional and aesthetic works. The course requires a basic exposure to classical Arabic script and a basic working knowledge of the religion of Islam. Students will leave the course with a greater facility in discussing Islamic theological themes and will gain skills for future religious and philosophical studies.
  • Racial Justice and Postcolonial Theory (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course delves into historical, sociological, and anthropological discourses to explore how racial and ethnic categories have been constructed and deployed in modern history and in the contemporary world. We seek to understand the political, social, economic, and cultural impacts of colonialism and political struggles for self-determination. We explore how constructions of race and ethnicity have impacted colonial processes and subsequent independence movements. We consider how racial categories function in different national and regional contexts and will examine social discourses aimed at combating racism and ethnic disenfranchisement. The course also introduces students to major philosophers, ethicists, and cultural theorists from the late twentieth and twenty-first century, including Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, Edward Said, Gayatria Chakravorty Spivak, Judith Butler, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Angela Davis, James Cone, Christine Delphy, Arundhati Roy, Patricia Hill Collins, Cornel West, and others. Students will have opportunities to explore journalistic writing and will reflect on their own experiences navigating social categories related to race and ethnicity. The course prepares students for future work involving cultural studies.
  • Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World (W)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course offers an opportunity for students to delve deeper into the connections, influences, and encounters between spiritual traditions in the contemporary world. We consider how religious identity is used as a wedge to exacerbate political conflicts and how common religious values can be used as a bridge to engender reconciliation across divides. The course looks at different settings for interfaith encounters and considers ways in which leaders of spiritual traditions have engaged cooperatively in social justice movements. We explore the concept of the public sphere and investigate how religious values impact policy debates and law-making in societies around the world.
  • Religion, Ethics, and Society (F)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course introduces students to the phenomenological study of religion and explores various manifestations of religious thought, meaning, experience, and behavior. Themes covered include conceptions of religious authority, the roles of women, attitudes toward violence, histories of interreligious relations, virtue ethics, and ideas about the public good. We explore themes such as mindfulness, wellness, health, and freedom in different spiritual traditions and consider the guidance these spiritual traditions offer for living in harmony with the natural world and each other. We compare how adherents of the world’s major spiritual traditions live out their traditions in diverse times and places and how traditions have been adapted or reinterpreted throughout history. The course fosters a systematic and critically-disciplined understanding of the influence of religion in societies past and present. Students have opportunities to work collaboratively on projects and pursue independent research.
  • Women and Ethics (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course introduces key theories and methods in women’s studies, explores the works of women moral philosophers, and probes ethical issues related to women and gender. Themes and topics covered include sexual and reproductive ethics, feminist social theories and movements, the concept of intersectionality, including womanist and muherista contributions to moral philosophy, and themes related to women’s leadership and political activism. The course focuses on honing academic writing skills and provides students with an opportunity to explore their voices and views on important issues of public concern.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Celene Ibrahim
    Celene Ibrahim
    978-448-7385
    Bio
  • Photo of Allison Read
    Allison Read
    Chaplain
    978-448-7257
    Bio