The Religious Studies and Philosophy Department equips students with the means to examine critically and objectively fundamental truths about humanity, its place within the universe, and human understandings and experiences of ultimate, greater 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, and what is ultimately true and real.
Religious literacy is a central component of preparatory education in an increasingly connected global society. The department aspires to foster a more humane, aware, and conscientious student and neither presumes nor promotes the particular ideals and values of any single system of belief. Its course offerings 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 in the Third Form are required to take and complete the Sacred Texts and Ancient Peoples course. Students who enroll in the school after the Third Form are required first to complete the Comparative Religion course. Thereafter, all students must complete a minimum of any one-term departmental course offering at any point in or beyond the winter term of the Fourth Form, or in the fall term of the Fourth Form, pending departmental permission.
This course utilizes a comparative and conceptually-based methodological approach to introduce students to the phenomenological study of religion. Students identify fundamental concepts that comprise various manifestations of religious thought, meaning, experience, and behavior. The concepts are then examined within the purview and historical unfolding of five of the world’s major religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), in order to compare how adherents of these traditions in diverse times and places have adapted and reinterpreted them, while simultaneously maintaining continuity with their prior forms and expressions. By employing a methodology that not only is conceptual and historical, but also gives precedence to the first over the second, the course fosters a systematic and critically-disciplined understanding of religion.
Why do people do what they do? How do people determine morality and make ethical decisions? What frameworks help societies to formulate ethical questions and examine their conclusions, related conduct, and behavior? This course explores classical ethical theories such as Utilitarianism, Egoism, and Cultural Relativism and examines how they may be applied to contemporary situations that require moral clarity and discernment. Case studies may address such issues as: environmental ethics; abortion and euthanasia; social justice; capital punishment; and, media ethics. The materials for the class include textbook readings, primary sources, popular culture, and news media.
Taught jointly by the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department and the History Department, this course introduces students to the world’s great religious traditions and the cultures that produced them. The course begins with the traditions of the East (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese philosophies) and emphasizes Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) as they developed within their historical contexts, including the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. This foundational course seeks to develop students' skills as note-takers, critical readers, analytical writers, and interpreters of primary sources.
Gil Birney is taking a "sabbatical from retirement" to serve as the interim chaplain for 2019–20. He retired from Bowdoin College in June 2018 after twenty-two years there as the head coach of men's and women's rowing. Prior to Bowdoin Gil served two mission congregations in Maine for fourteen years, and at the beginning of his ordained ministry went right into school work in chaplaincy, and as teacher and coach, at Brooks School, Hoosac School, and St. Paul's School. He particularly enjoys messing about in boats.
Gil holds a B.A. from Williams College and an M. Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. Off campus, he and his wife Edie live on the edge of the marsh on Georgetown Island in mid-coast Maine, where the Sheepscot and Kennebec Rivers meet the sea.
Dr. Celene Ibrahim, a teacher in Groton's Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy, has taught at colleges, universities, and theological schools across New England, co-directed an institute on interreligious studies and religious leadership, and served as a chaplain at Tufts University. Dr. Ibrahim has authored numerous publications in the fields of women’s and gender studies, religion in America, and Islamic studies. She holds a bachelor’s degree with highest honors from Princeton University, a master's of divinity from Harvard University, and a PhD in Arabic and Islamic civilizations from the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University.
Dr. Ibrahim is the editor of One Nation, Indivisible: Seeking Liberty and Justice from the Pulpit to the Streets (Wipf & Stock Publishers). Her most recent book project (Oxford University Press) examines female figures in the Qur'an.
Dr. Ibrahim's several dozen awards and honors include being named a Mellon Fellow; a Harvard Presidential Scholar; a fellow in the Program on Religion, Diplomacy, and International Relations at the Woodrow Wilson School; and a Davis Scholar at Princeton University. Often quoted in the media, Dr. Ibrahim is deeply committed to fostering values of pluralism and civic responsibility. She is joined on campus by her husband, a retired professional athlete and trainer, and their daughter, a member of Groton's Form of 2024.