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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 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.
  • Comparative Religion (F)

    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.
  • Jerusalem: City at the Nexus of Three Religions (S)

    This course examines the history, significance, and contemporary realities of Jerusalem, an ancient city of religious centrality to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It examines the ancient origins and subsequent development of Jerusalem, with a special focus on its archaeological, literary and historical evidence. It then explores the religious centrality and meaning of Jerusalem for the world’s three, major monotheistic religious traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Additionally, it surveys the symbolic expression and imagination of Jerusalem in art, literature, and other modes of popular culture. Finally, it examines the challenging, contemporary realities of Jerusalem as a city of heightened political significance.
  • The Holocaust (ha-Shoah) (F)

    This course examines the underlying causes, associated issues, and ongoing repercussions of the tragic process of destruction of European Jewry from approximately 1933-45 known as the Holocaust (Hebrew: ha-Shoah). The course examines the historical span and development of both anti-Judaism and its modern, ideological manifestation, anti-Semitism, that together laid the groundwork for the development of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This will be followed by an investigation of the events of the Holocaust. Thereafter, it focuses attention on the aftermath of the Holocaust and a range of its ongoing ramifications, including: approaches to studying the Holocaust; Holocaust denial; Bystander Effect; the Holocaust in Israeli society; Holocaust literature; contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism; Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust; and, academic anti-Semitism.
  • Ethics (F)

    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.
  • Sacred Texts (Y)

    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.

Our Faculty

  • W. David Nelson

    Head, Religious Studies and Philosophy Department
  • Christopher Whiteman