Explore our Curriculum

Religious Studies and Philosophy

Religious Studies and Philosophy are academic disciplines both distinct from and complementary to other humanistic fields such as history, art, and literature. Religious literacy, or knowledge and awareness of the principles and practices of traditions across time and place, is a central component of education, contributes to intercultural competency, and fosters an appreciation for the value of pluralism for civil life in global, interconnected societies. Course offerings in the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department share a common commitment to the reasoned and respectful exploration of a multiplicity of worldviews, ethical frameworks, and essential questions related to meaning, truth, justice, and beauty.

Upper School students must complete a minimum of any one-term departmental course offering as a diploma requirement.
  • Christian Scripture in Contemporary Culture (F)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. Readings and interpretations of Christian scripture continue to shape contemporary social, cultural, and political landscapes. What are these texts and how are we to understand and use them? This course will emphasize close reading of ancient texts as well as contemporary academic commentary while also engaging students in reflection and discussion of how texts are received and applied in the personal and public spheres. We will focus our studies on core teachings and parables of Jesus of Nazareth and the letters of Paul, particularly as they speak to current issues of gender and sexuality, economic justice, and environmental ethics.
  • Classical Arabic and the Qur’an (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. The course provides an introduction to the Qur’an in the original Arabic and explores the classical language in the context of Muslim culture more broadly, including in calligraphy. Students explore a language that is more than two millennia old and that remains among the most widely used languages in the contemporary world. Students emerge from the course with a basic ability to read, write, and type the Arabic script, recognize a host of key Qur’anic terms and concepts, and parse the meanings and grammar of the Qur’an in Arabic using online tools. The course prepares students for future Arabic studies and cultural immersion experiences but does not fulfill a Groton School language requirement. 
  • Foundations of Global History (Y)

    Taught jointly by the Religious Studies and Philosophy 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, 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. 
  • Mysticism in Christianity (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. Contemporary culture affirms spirituality while being ‘religious’ gives us pause. What might the lineages of Christian mystics offer the world today? Mysticism appears throughout Christian history and across its cultures and traditions–among ancient ascetics of Egypt’s desert, medieval Roman Catholic women religious, modern Black Protestant activists, and contemporary indigenous American Christians. In this course, we will study Christian scripture, theology, “classics” of the mystical tradition, and the writings and practices of everyday contemplatives.
  • Peacebuilding and the Israel-Palistine Crisis (F)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. Drawing on the ideas of leading scholar-practitioners of religion, peacebuilding, and conflict transformation, this course offers students a deep dive into the history of the crisis in Israel–Palestine. Students gain perspective on the origins of the crisis and its rippling contemporary impacts by engaging with historical and theological resources as well as the lived examples of community builders, educators, interreligious leaders, and peace activists. Through exposure to multiple perspectives and interpretive frameworks, students learn strategies for holding the tensions in divergent historical and theological narratives. The course encourages students to develop cognitive tools to engage insightfully and empathetically with themes such as intergenerational suffering and collective grief. Throughout the course, we ask questions fundamental to the human experience: How can we encourage people to affirm and express their common humanity across disparate identities and ideological positions? What are the impacts of ritualized gestures and liturgy on transforming conflict? How do platforms for truth-telling and justice-seeking contribute to peacebuilding? In part by examining how violent ethnic conflicts have been transformed, we draw lessons applicable to peace-oriented activism in the Israel–Palestine context.
  • Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World (S)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. This course offers an opportunity for students to delve deeper into the connections, influences, and encounters between adherents of different spiritual traditions in the contemporary world. We explore the concept of the public sphere and investigate how religious values impact policy debates and law-making in a global context. We consider how religious identity is used as a wedge to exacerbate political conflicts but how common religious values can also be used as a bridge to engender reconciliation across divides. We survey various settings for interfaith encounters and consider ways in which leaders of spiritual traditions engage cooperatively in social justice movements. Themes covered include conceptions of religious authority, attitudes toward violence and interreligious relations, virtue ethics, and ideas about the public good and freedom. We also consider the guidance these spiritual traditions offer for living in harmony with the natural world and each other. We investigate how adherents of the world’s major spiritual traditions live out their convictions in pluralistic societies and how traditions have been adapted or reinterpreted in light of changing circumstances. The course fosters a systematic and critically-disciplined understanding of the influence of religion in politics, broadly conceived. Theoretically, the course introduces students to social science frameworks for studying religion and the phenomenological study of religious thought, meaning, experience, and behavior. Students have opportunities to work collaboratively on projects and pursue original research. 
  • Religion in Public Life (W)

    Open to Sixth, Fifth, and Fourth Formers. The year 2023 marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington as well as the publication of Strength to Love, a volume of sermons by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. In this course, we will study the central teachings of Jesus alongside the writings of the Rev. Dr. King. We will examine the Christian scriptures in light of their original historical and cultural context and consider their theological, social, and ethical implications. We will encounter those same texts as they frame King's writing and speaking as a leader for social justice.
  • Women, Gender, and Ethics (W)

    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 contributions to moral philosophy, and themes related to women’s leadership and political activism. The course offers opportunities for students to practice public-facing genres of writing and scholarship and provides students with an opportunity to explore their voices and views on issues of public concern. 

Our Faculty

  • Shashi Dwarakanath-ji
    Spiritual Life
  • Photo of Celene Ibrahim
    Celene Ibrahim
  • Sean Maher
  • Photo of Allison Read
    Allison Read
  • Monica Sanford