Religions at George School

Religions courses at George School take a global—even universal—perspective. Our goals are to:

  • Nurture your spiritual development.
  • Share the essentials of Quaker faith, practice, and community, and to give you an appreciation of the ways in which these are embedded in the culture and everyday life of George School.
  • Enhance your knowledge about the worlds’ great religious traditions.
  • Help you practice social-emotional, academic, contemplative, and global citizenship skills.
  • Provide a space of sanctuary in the midst of the stresses of adolescence.

Our Alumni

Sara Wolf ’99 received not only an education from George School, but also a new perspective on the world.

Religions Fast Facts

MFW

meeting for worship, a time when we gather for quiet reflection

19

courses from Abrahamic Faiths to Theory of Knowledge

11

deeply spiritual faculty members, 73% with advanced degrees

65

hours invested in a life-changing service learning project

More to Explore

A Mindful Look at Teaching

Tom Hoopes ’83, head of the Religions Department at George School, shared what he has learned about teaching religion at the historic Newtown Friends Meetinghouse.

Students Walk Across Campus to Map Out Solar System

Students took a brisk walk across campus to map out the solar system in an exercise called “The Thousand-Yard Model,” or “The Earth as a Peppercorn.” The exercise is part of a Religions Department Cosmology course.

Religions Courses

Essentials of a Friends Community

This one term course is required of all ninth graders and new sophomores. Students are introduced to life at George School and to the application of Quaker practices as a framework for living. Through a combination of classroom activities and experiential learning, students learn about living responsibly in a Quaker community.

Open to: Freshmen and sophomores

Faith Traditions

This required ninth grade course, which meets during Terms 2 and 3, introduces students to the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the final segment of the course, students are introduced to the faith and practice of Quakerism. Topics include the history and beliefs of each tradition, worship and ritual, festivals, sacred scripture, and rites of passage. Students use factual information to engage in personal reflection on ethical and religious questions. The course develops the skills of synthesizing information and concepts, comparing different worldviews, independently following a term-length syllabus, working collaboratively, writing reflectively and critically, and applying information within different contexts. The course employs a variety of teaching methods including class discussion, lecture, video and documentary films, websites, and interviews with guest presenters. Homework includes reading, factual and reflective writing, in-class presentations, and small-group research projects.

Open to: Freshmen

Spiritual Practices

This first-term course, required for all returning sophomores, provides an experiential introduction to spiritual practices from the world’s religions. Much of the class is based on exercises from the book Essential Spirituality by Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D. The course helps students to recognize the broad range of spiritual experiences, as well as to identify many of the shared practices found in the world’s great faith traditions. Students learn to expand and develop their spiritual vocabulary so that they may better articulate their own experiences, regardless of whether they consider themselves religious. Skills emphasized in Spiritual Practices include close reading to understand diverse spiritual experiences, use of a theological and spiritual vocabulary, reflection on an array of experiential spiritual practices, and close listening to diverse perspectives. Students are encouraged to explore the validity of their own spiritual experiences, to articulate spiritual questions, and to cultivate an attitude of spiritual seeking. Sample topics include Cultivating Emotional Wisdom, Ethical Living, Concentrate and Calm Your Mind, and Embracing Generosity and the Joy of Service.

Open to: Sophomores

Holistic Health

This two-term required sophomore course allows students to explore several important dimensions of health. Sample topics include psychological health, alcohol and other chemical substances, and human sexuality. Students use factual information to engage in ethical decision making with an emphasis on personal responsibility. The course develops the skills of synthesizing information and concepts, independently following a term-length syllabus, working collaboratively, discussing abstract and controversial topics, writing reflectively and critically, and applying information within different contexts. The course employs a variety of teaching methods including lecture, multimedia presentations, role-plays, and a great deal of class discussion. Assignments include reading, journal and essay writing, in-class presentations, and small-group research projects.

Open to: Sophomores

Wisdom Traditions of Asia

This term elective course for juniors and seniors explores the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism. Utilizing Huston Smith’s The Word’s Religions and Philip Novak’s The World’s Wisdom (an anthology of sacred texts) we examine the origins, beliefs and worship of these ancient Eastern “wisdom traditions.” This course develops the skills of synthesizing information and concepts, comparing different worldviews, following a term-length syllabus, working collaboratively, and writing reflectively and critically. The course employs a variety of teaching methods including class discussion, lecture, cinema and documentary films, use of internet resources, and occasional interviews with guest presenters. Homework includes reading, factual and reflective writing, in-class presentations, and small group research projects.

This course, along with The Abrahamic Faiths, is required of students who have not taken Faith Traditions.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

The Abrahamic Faiths

This term elective course for juniors and seniors explores the biblical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Utilizing Huston Smith’s The Word’s Religions and Philip Novak’s The World’s Wisdom (an anthology of sacred texts) we examine the origins, beliefs and worship of these “wisdom traditions.” In the closing weeks of the term we also deepen our understanding of the Quaker tradition and its faith-based testimonies. This course develops the skills of synthesizing information and concepts, comparing different worldviews, following a term-length syllabus, working collaboratively, and writing reflectively and critically. The course employs a variety of teaching methods including class discussion, lecture, cinema and documentary films, use of internet resources, and occasional interviews with guest presenters. Homework includes reading, factual and reflective writing, in-class presentations, and small group research projects.

This course, along with Wisdom Traditions of Asia, is required of students who have not taken Faith Traditions.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

The Meaning of Myth

This course explores the universality and evolution of myths throughout human history. Students investigate the reappearance of common motifs that portray eternal truths about mankind with particular focus on the mythologies of indigenous peoples. We explore such topics as the hero’s adventure, creation stories, God vs. Nature, initiation rituals, transcendence of death, the center of the world (axis mundis), and association with the infinite. Additionally, we examine the ways myths continue to influence popular culture such as Star Wars or the Harry Potter series.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

African-American Religious Traditions

This course is an interdisciplinary exploration of the diversity in African American religious traditions. From so-called slave religion to the prosperity gospel, students will be exposed to the evolution of Black people’s faith in the United States by learning about key persons, significant movements and influential institutions. Primarily guided by historical and sociological inquiry, students will engage primary and contemporary sources to uncover insight about African American culture with an eye toward the horizon in Black spirituality.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

South African & African-American Thought Leadership

By engaging the voices of Black Americans and Black South Africans, this course will introduce students to how spirituality finds expression in the public square. This experience is intended to be engagement-intensive, duly emphasizing analytical reading, interpretive writing and spirited conversation. From the religion of enslaved people in the Americas that inspired abolition to democratic champions’ cries for a more just society in 21st century South Africa, students will examine the architecture of activism and the thought leaders who catalyze it.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Cosmology

Marcus Aurelius observed that “He who does not know what the world is does not know where he is, and he who does not know for what purpose the world exists, does not know who he is, nor what the world is.” In recent history, our understanding of cosmology has been dominated by stunning scientific discoveries focusing on the role of physical laws in governing the evolution of the universe. But what does this new story of the universe mean? Cultural observers note that as a species we are experiencing a cosmological crisis, no longer clear about our place and role in the universe, and as a result are facing some of the greatest ethical challenges in our history.

This one-term religion course examines several cosmological models and their ethical implications, including both the biblical model and the emerging universe story, which reflects on the wisdom of science. Other cosmological models, such as Hindu, Aristotelian/Ptolemaic, and Aboriginal/Indigenous may be examined as time allows.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Peace Studies

This term course is an introduction to active nonviolence and nonviolent conflict resolution. We begin by studying the emergence of nonviolence in Western thought by reading Thoreau, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. We use the Global Nonviolent Action Database as a tool for identifying and exploring successful campaigns around the world. We consider the groundbreaking work of Erica Chenoweth, who is widely recognized for having “proved Gandhi right.” We examine several contemporary issues including the influence of feminism, the death penalty, the Danish and South African resistance movements, and, finally, resistance to mass incarceration and the successful activism of the Earth Quaker Action Team.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Quakerism Past and Present

In this one-term course, students deepen their understanding of Quaker history and the evolution and application of Quaker testimonies, from the 17th century to the present. Readings include selections from various editions of Faith and Practice, The Journal of George Fox, The Journal of John Woolman, and the writings of Howard Brinton, Margaret Hope Bacon, and John Punshon, among others. Students should come away from this course with a clearer understanding that they are the “keepers” of the testimonies, and that they play a role in the future of the religion.

(Not offered in 2018-19.)

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Feminist Spirituality

This one-term course explores topics in theology and spirituality through a feminist lens. Students consider texts from several religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Quakerism, Islam, Hindu and Wiccan/Goddess. The goal of this course is to support and nurture students’ spiritual curiosity and development, by grounding it in some of the perspectives that have re-interpreted patriarchal language and imagery about the nature of the divine, and the metaphysical powers of the universe. Students consider questions and insights that arise for them in relation to the reading, discussions, and their journaling and in connection with topics they are exploring in other courses, and in their lives outside of the classroom. Questions to be explored include: What is “feminism”? Who/what is “God?” What have been some of the different manifestations of the divine, and how does gender identity connect with them? Where are women in religious histories and stories? What are some of the gender-prescribed roles in various religions? What happened to the ancient goddesses and goddess religions?

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Spirituality and Sustainability

This one-term course explores the topics of ecological sustainability and stewardship through the lens of spirituality. Students consider texts and resources from religious thinkers of various faiths, scientific researchers, political activists and, especially, people who combine and integrate these disciplines. The goal of this course is to help students to make connections between their spiritual leadings and concerns on the one hand, and their critical intellectual insights on the other. It seeks to nurture and support citizen-scholars committed to faithful stewardship of the earth. Students discuss questions and insights that arise for them in relation to the reading, movies, discussions and journaling and questions and in connection with topics they are exploring in other courses and in life outside of the classroom. Early in the term, students watch An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s documentary campaign to make the issue of global warming a recognized problem worldwide. This serves as a jumping-off point for consideration of questions about the meaning of “faithful stewardship of the earth” from various religious and spiritual perspectives, including the students’ own.

(Not offered in 2018-19.)

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Deepening Spiritual Practices

Building directly on work done in Spiritual Practices, Deepening Spiritual Practices is a mindfulness-based course that offers students the opportunity to engage in regular spiritual practice during class sessions and for homework. Rather than experiencing and exploring a wide range of practices, as is the case for sophomores, students in Deepening Spiritual Practices will have the opportunity for more intensive practice in three different forms, each one for about three weeks. The practices chosen will depend on the teacher, but may be selected from among the following: writing/journaling as spiritual practice, lectio divina/spiritual reading, nature as spiritual practice, ethical living, creating ritual, or art as spiritual practice. Coursework will consist of readings, exercises, in-class activities, written reflection, and discussion. The final exam may include a prepared essay and/or an oral presentation.

(Not offered in 2018-19.)

Open to: Juniors and seniors

IB SL World Religions

In International Baccalaureate (IB) World Religions, students study a number of living world religions in an inquiring, open-minded, and empathetic way. The scope of the course is both broad and intensive, beginning with a survey of five world religions (including but not limited to: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The class will then move into a focused study of two in particular (to be selected from among those previously mentioned), at the discretion of the teacher.  World religions are studied in such a way that students will acquire a sense of what it is like to belong to a particular religion and how that influences the way in which the followers of that religion understand and act in the world, and relate and respond to others. The experiential dimension to learning is of great importance in a course like this and so field trips and visits from outside speakers are included.  Students will be prepared for an internal oral assessment and for the IB World Religions SL exam.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Theory of Knowledge

This one-term philosophy course encourages critical thinking about knowledge itself. Students ask and answer questions like these: What counts as knowledge? How is knowledge created? What are its limits? In other words, the focus is on how we know, rather than on what we know. The goals for students in this course are: 1) to gain an understanding of what it means to know something as a scientist, an artist, a mathematician, a philosopher, etc.; 2) to appreciate how the forms of knowledge relate to one another; and 3) to practice thinking and writing critically.

Students in the IB diploma program must take the yearlong IB Theory of Knowledge course, not this course.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

IB Theory of Knowledge

This yearlong course is required of all IB diploma candidates. Others may take either the full course or the first term of it as a religions elective.

This is a synthesis course that examines some of the ways in which we acquire knowledge and understand the world around us. Students explore perception, reason, and language as basic means through which we understand our experience. The course also examines different areas of knowledge, such as mathematics, science, history, morality, politics, aesthetics, and religion.

The course structure frequently employs the Socratic method to challenge students to analyze philosophical issues and to reflect on their own intellectual experiences. Students read a rich variety of texts and essays that raise religious, moral, aesthetic, and ethical questions and write reflective journal entries often in response to the reading. Each student in the course must prepare an oral presentation and submit a 1,200- to 1,600-word essay on one of ten theory of knowledge questions prescribed by the International Baccalaureate Organization.

Open to: Juniors and seniors

Service Learning Projects

Through extending themselves to others, students develop a sense of commitment; learn the potential rewards and frustrations involved in service; learn how specific agencies, cultures, and institutions operate; develop an appreciation for complex social support networks; and gain insight into their own values and life goals. Sixty-five hours of service are required of all George School students during junior or senior year. Service learning projects vary from intense, two-week experiences in a school-sponsored, domestic or international service project, to once-a-week experiences that extend throughout the school year, to preapproved independent projects. Service learning projects may be completed during the school year or over the summer. Each project must take the form of direct interaction with people who are disempowered because of social, racial, economic, or health factors. School-sponsored trips can accommodate limited numbers and require an application and screening process. Students are expected to submit proposals for most service projects well in advance of the project date. Each student is required to write a reflective journal that documents personal growth and understanding of the service experience. Some service learning projects have supplementary reading to orient students to the population being served.