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Religious Studies and Philosophy
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 Traditions and Premodern History 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 elective course offers an in-depth exploration of the foundational text of Islam and basic exposure to classical Arabic language. The course simultaneously allows students to become familiar with one of the world’s most influential scriptures and provides an introduction to a language that is more than two millennia old and yet is currently one of the five most spoken languages in the world. Students emerge from the course with an ability to read basic Arabic scripts, recognize a host of key Qur’anic concepts and terms in the original language, and appreciate this classical language in the context of religion and Arabic literary culture more broadly. This course will satisfy the Ethics requirement.
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. This course fulfills a one-term diploma requirement.
This course introduces students to major philosophers, ethicists, and cultural theorists from the twentieth and twenty-first century whose work has contributed to the field of postcolonial theory. This field seeks to understand the political, social, economic, and cultural impacts of colonialism around the globe. This course will pay particular attention to how constructions of race have impacted colonial processes and subsequent independence struggles. Theorists studied include Frantz Fanon, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Gayatria Chakravorty Spivak, Judith Butler, Homi Bhabha, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Angela Davis, Christine Delphy, and others.
This elective course builds upon Groton School’s required Third Form history course and offers an opportunity for students to delve deeper into the connections, influences, and encounters between faith traditions in the contemporary world. The course looks at different settings for interfaith dialogue and considers ways in which religious leaders from different traditions have engaged cooperatively in struggles for social justice. The course also looks at the ways in which religion and religious identity are used both as a wedge to exacerbate political conflicts and a bridge to engender healing and reconciliation. This course will satisfy the Ethics requirement.
Taught jointly by the Religious Studies and Philosophy Department and the History Department, this course introduces students to religious traditions and the history and cultures that shaped their origins and development. Global in scope, the course considers religious traditions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as Chinese philosophies. Similarly, the course surveys traditions and history of Africa and the Americas and the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome. This foundational course introduces students to religious pluralism, methods for the study and interpretation of religion, history, and culture; it aids students in gaining religious literacy and intercultural knowledge; and it develops students' skills as note-takers, critical readers, analytical writers, researchers, and interpreters of primary sources.
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.
The Reverend Allison Read joined the Groton community in the summer of 2020 to serve as chaplain and director of spiritual life and to teach in the Religion Studies and Philosophy Department. Prior to serving at Groton, for thirteen years she was college chaplain and dean of spiritual and religious life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She earned a bachelor of arts in English (Modern Studies) and religious studies (Christianity and Islam) from the University of Virginia, and both an M.A.R. and M.Div. from Yale Divinity School, as well as a diploma in Anglican studies from Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Chaplain Read was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church by the bishop of New York, and before turning to educational settings served parish churches in New York City and New Jersey.
Chaplain Read oversees weekday services for students, faculty, and staff in St. John’s Chapel, and directs a group of faculty and affiliated personnel who support and lead Groton’s diverse, ongoing religious and spiritual life programs. Drawing on the school’s Episcopal heritage, Chaplain Read brings together students, faculty, and staff to carry forward vital traditions, embrace pluralism, and promote diversity and inclusion for the well-being and integrity of our school community and the world. She extends pastoral care and counsel to all Groton students. On Sundays and holy days, she conducts Christian worship in St. John’s Chapel in the tradition of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. She is a dorm affiliate and otherwise supports faculty and engages students to thrive amidst the academic, athletic, and creative arts activities at Groton School.