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Religions at George School

Religions courses are designed to nurture your spiritual as well as academic development.

As a Friends school, we share the essentials of Quaker faith, practice, and community, and will give you an appreciation for the ways these are embedded in the culture and everyday life of George School. But the Religions Department has an “s” in its name for a reason. We take a global—even universal—perspective, seeking to enhance your knowledge about the worlds’ great faith traditions.

From varied classes to service learning, meeting for worship to co-op, our program will help you practice social-emotional, academic, contemplative, and global citizenship skills and provide a space of sanctuary in the midst of the stresses of adolescence.

Religions Fast Facts

11

deeply spiritual faculty members, 73% with advanced degrees

MFW

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

65

hours invested in a life-changing service learning project

Religions Department Courses

Essentials of a Friends Community

This course is required of all ninth graders. Students are introduced to life at George School and to the application of Quaker practices as a framework for living. There is an emphasis on the Quaker testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship (“SPICES”). Through a combination of classroom activities and experiential learning, students learn about living responsibly in a Quaker community. EFC is one of the places in the GS academic program in which a student is invited and expected to consider their own life’s journey, personal experiences, and values as part of the curriculum. Toward the end of the course, students are introduced to the study of religion and religions as human endeavors.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 9

Faith, Responsibility & Sustainability

This course, taken late in the 9th grade year, builds on the student learnings from Essentials of a Friends Community (REL100A) and experiences as George School students in the interim, has two main components: a) Field trips to a local farm, where students engage in experiential learning about agriculture, land stewardship, entrepreneurship, and community, in ways that connect and examine these themes through a Quaker lens; and b) School-based learning about some of the world’s major religious traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and how they have made sense of people’s efforts to live a meaningful and good life. Students study, learn, and explore topics related to the theme of how various traditions connect community, food, faith, justice, and the Earth.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 2.0-2.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 9

Holistic Health

This required sophomore course allows students to explore dimensions of health and wellness that are developmentally appropriate for 16-year-olds, as an area of knowledge as well as a set of practical life skills. Topics include psychological health, spiritual wholeness, alcohol, marijuana, other drugs, social media, 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, 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 lectures, multimedia presentations, role-plays, and a great deal of class discussion. Assignments include reading, journal writing, in-class presentations, and small-group research projects. Woven throughout the course are opportunities for students to explore specific spiritual and wellness practices, and to cultivate positive habits of mind and of heart.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 3.0-3.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 10

Studies in Spirituality, Religions & Integrity

Any three or more of the following 1-credit courses constitute the course Studies in Spirituality, Religions & Integrity:

• Becoming An Adult: Finding Your Purpose in Life (REL410F)
• Buddhism For Beginners (REL410L)
• Embodied Mindfulness (REL420F)
• Feeding the Dimensions of your Health – Let’s Go Al Fresco! (REL420R)
• Living Large: Spiritual Design in Small-Space Living (REL430F)
• Meaning of Myth (REL430L)
• Origin Stories: Why Is There Something & Not Nothing (REL430R)
• Peace Studies (REL440F)
• The Power and Paradox of Forgiveness (REL440R)
• Race, Reparation, and Identity (REL440R)
• Spiritual Practices for Well-Being (REL450L)
• Theory of Knowledge (REL450R)
• World Religions (REL460F)

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-6.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Becoming An Adult: Finding Your Purpose in Life

This course allows older students to examine their core values which impact all areas of their future lives. To know and understand our values is the first step in making values-based decisions, which allows us to live our lives with integrity. To apply those values to behaviors is the next crucial step in living with integrity. This is especially important as adolescents move into independence while figuring out who they are, what they want, and how their values influence their future. Key questions that inform this course include:
• Why is values-based decision making important?
• What brings me joy and satisfaction in life?
• How can I create meaning in my life?
• What makes me feel satisfied and proud of myself?
• How do I define success?
• Which values do I feel I most always honor?
• Which values might I be willing to compromise, and why?
• How do I handle conflicting values?
• How do I use my values to influence my decisions and help guide me through a meaningful life?

A core text is The Big Picture: A Guide to Finding Your Purpose in Life, by Dr. Christine B Whelan. Students engage in readings, viewings, discussions, and journaling, all of which help them develop their own systems for engaging with the driving questions of this course more constructively.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Buddhism for Beginners

The Buddha taught that the way to free the mind from suffering is through gaining insight into what truly is. This course will examine the basic tenets of Buddhism with an aim for allowing students to learn some basic practices, principles, and applications for the modern world. One need not become a Buddhist to gain insight about what it means to live a good life, to help relieve suffering, or to nurture one’s spiritual needs. In addition to readings by influential teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Pema Chödrön, and Stephen Batchelor, along with Tricycle magazine, our regular practices may include Dharma discussions, vipassana meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. When practical, we will visit the Bucks County Sangha and meet with other practitioners and local teachers, as well as invite them to come to our classroom to share their wisdom with us directly.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Embodied Mindfulness

There is a longstanding bias built into western religious thinking, which positions the spirit against the body. That is, those things which are uplifting to the spirit are separate from those things which are satisfying to the body. This schism of body and spirit has caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering. Embodied Mindfulness is a course designed to reconcile this schism, and to help students to learn to get centered and stay centered in their bodies. Various traditions offer powerful insights and practices and to help in this healing work. Drawing from labyrinth-walking practice, yoga, martial arts, and Vipassana meditation, this course equips students with a variety of tools to help them experience their bodies as allies in the spiritual journey. At the same time, this course engages students in rigorous practices of coming home to their physical selves. Students engage in and study practices that affirm that the mind, the body, and the spirit are actually three facets of the same unity.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Feeding the Dimensions of Your Health: Let’s Go Al Fresco!

In a world driven to put too much on our plates, we need to learn how to gain back the parts of ourselves that are often lost. What better way to find yourself than to take a journey outside? Over the past twenty years, a growing body of research has shown the positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions when we engage with the outdoors. These positive impacts can result in greater happiness and health, and have even more surprising benefits such as generosity, humility, greater creativity, and a sense of wonder. In this course, students will be guided along a journey of experiential learning and mindfulness through a variety of outdoor adventures, fitness-based activities, and spiritual practices focusing on all of the dimensions of our health. Daily movement and meditative practices complement the outdoor adventures. As part of this course, students also read a variety of perspectives on experiences with nature.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Living Large: Spiritual Design in Small Space Living

As an intentional community founded on Quaker testimonies of simplicity, equality/equity, and stewardship of the earth, George School has been a champion of social justice movements. The recent focus on our impact on the environment and being mindful of our footprint is one such movement. What better place to start to understand these relationships than with the concept of “home”? In the course of exploring the tiny house movement, this class focuses on philosophical foundations, grant and proposal writing, and design. Students leave this course with a design plan for their own tiny home.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: 1 mod of 11th grade English

Open to: 11, 12

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.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Origin Stories: Why is There Something & Not Nothing?

Since the dawn of consciousness, human beings have pondered the mystery of existence: Why is there something and not nothing? From this question, grounded in wonder and awe, flow the headwaters of many of the world’s religious, philosophic, and scientific traditions. Every society has an “origin” story that attempts to answer this question, and in so doing, situate humankind in the cosmos. This class will examine origin stories from around the world and through the ages: from the Hebrew Biblical story of Genesis to Pangu – a primordial being in Chinese mythology – to the Cherokee sky-world of Gälûñ’lätï, to our modern scientific origin story of the Big Bang and the birth of the universe 13.8 billion years ago. What do these stories have in common? What do they tell us about ourselves, and our place in the cosmos? We are all of us stardust, forged in the furnace of a distant stellar explosion. Or aren’t we?

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Peace Studies

This 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.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

The Power and Paradox of Forgiveness

At the heart of forgiveness lies a paradox: if you are culpable for what you did and therefore deserve to be punished rather than forgiven for it, then you will always be culpable for what you did. Forgiveness plays no role in righting the wrong. And yet, the acts of forgiving and being forgiven are essential to a building a compassionate society, facilitating reconciliation, and recognizing the potential for personal growth. In this course, students explore this paradox as well as the power that comes from acceptance. How can one forgive the person but not the act itself? Are there acts that are beyond forgiveness? Can one be forgiven without showing remorse? Can someone forgive on behalf of others? Students gain insight through a series of readings such as The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal, as well as films and other texts. Students develop a comprehensive understanding of the concept of reconciliation, particularly the necessity of empathy and humanity in the process. We also explore the difference between interpersonal justice and criminal justice.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Race, Reparation & Identity

Racial and ethnic identity are variously and divergently interpreted and understood in the United States and elsewhere, frequently in ways that perpetuate pre-existing norms of power and privilege. As such, many well-intentioned people in American society are uncomfortable talking about race, ethnicity, class, religion, or level of education with people outside of their own perceived groups. A primary goal of this course is to enhance our inner selves by opening the doors leading to analytic and honest discussion about these intersecting aspects of our contemporary identities. We strive to discuss aspects of race and racial identity that often get overlooked in conversations around equality, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In this course we read theoretical and ethnographic writings about the ways in which these identity elements operate. Readings from W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Mica Pollock frame our discussion. We add the human, existential, and visceral dimensions that have afflicted racialized slaves of the Americas as well the more recent descendants of those racialized slaves. For example, we ask in this course:

Why are Black and brown people in the United States still lagging behind others in home ownership, skilled labor-readiness, and access to ancestral wealth?

In what ways do non-Black people benefit from the history of mass racialized enslavement of Black people in America?

Where do notions of God, religion, and brother/sister-hood fit into this discourse, in regards to how we understand struggle, sacrifice, and salvation?

This is a course of exploration, self-exploration, and spiritual nurture. Students are encouraged to re-imagine some aspects of history and of themselves, to acknowledge overlooked realities of economics and politics, and to consider some new and some old insights into race, reparation, and healing.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Spiritual Practices for Well Being

Students in Spiritual Practices learn how to cultivate a richer inner awareness and a refined clarity of expression through the use of time-honored and empirically-supported contemplative and reflective exercises and activities. With the aim of developing greater attentional abilities, emotional intelligence, ethical decision-making skills, and self-awareness, this course builds on George School’s own Holistic Health curriculum, Quaker Faith & Practice, Roger Walsh’s Essential Spirituality: The 7 Central Practices to Awaken Heart, Jack Kornfield’s A Path With Heart, and programs developed by the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, Contemplative Studies at Brown University, and the Learning to BREATHE curriculum, as well as various other religious, secular, and scholarly sources. Spiritual Practices emphasizes an experiential and embodied approach to social-emotional, ethical, and contemplative learning that is consistent with George School’s mission and the values of Friends education. This course offers students an opportunity to slow down and reflect on what really matters in their education and in their life, and to develop personal practices and habits that support that approach.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Theory of Knowledge

This one-mod 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 5-mod IB Theory of Knowledge course, not this course.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: None

Open to: 11, 12

World Religions

This course explores some of the most impactful religious traditions of our world: Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The historical origins, central teachings, devotional practices, and contemporary challenges within each religion are considered in relation to common themes of human experience: the divine or sacred; suffering; ethics; love and compassion; wisdom and justice; death and beyond. The goals of the course are: to facilitate understanding of the essential claims of these influential religions; to identify similarities and differences of thought and practice among the traditions; and to help students articulate their own religious and spiritual attitudes and orientations. Some key questions that we are likely to engage include: What is meant by “religion” and how is it different from “culture” and “spirituality?” Why is it important to study religions, especially including ones we don’t follow? How have the religions we study in this course shaped how people think and behave, individually and collectively?

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

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 four world religions and then moving into an in-depth study of two; the selection and sequence of the survey and in-depth studies are at the discretion of the teacher but will be chosen from Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other traditions such as Yoruba, Confucianism, and atheism may be included after the exam. In this course, 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. The experiential dimension to learning is of great importance and so field trips and visits from outside speakers are emphasized. Students conduct an independent investigative study of any topic related to religious belief and practice, including those outside the curriculum, and be prepared for the IB World Religions SL exam.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 3.0-3.0

Prerequisite: Final grades of B+ in at least two courses in English, history, language, math, or science in the year preceding that in which IB World Religions is to be taken or enrollment in the full IB Diploma Program.

Open to: 11, 12

IB Core: Inquiry

This one-module course is taken by IB Diploma Candidates at the beginning of their junior year and introduces them to the requirements of the Diploma Program, specifically the core elements: the Extended Essay (EE), Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), and Theory of Knowledge (TOK). This module provides foundational knowledge for the next two years and offers students the opportunity to begin applied practice of the IB core elements.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: None

Open to: 11

Theory of Knowledge: Exhibition

“How do we know what we know?” Theory of Knowledge is a course in applied epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) where students undergo deep critical thinking about how we produce knowledge, its relationship to values, and how we communicate our beliefs and opinions. They consider how concepts like truth, objectivity, evidence, and certainty might vary across academic disciplines, and how different perspectives can lead us to draw different conclusions about the world.

Theory of Knowledge: Exhibition consists of 2 modules. They focus on developing an exhibition of objects with accompanying commentaries that explores how TOK manifests in the world around us.

IB Diploma candidates and anyone who wants 4 credits in IB Theory of Knowledge (must be taken over 2 years) should register for REL627C instead of this course.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 2.0-2.0

Prerequisite: Final grades of B+ in at least two courses in English, history, language, math, or science in the year preceding that in which IB ToK is to be taken or enrollment in the full IB Diploma Program.

Open to: 11, 12

IB Theory of Knowledge

IB Theory of Knowledge is distinct from Theory of Knowledge in that students will enroll in four modules over their junior and senior years and will complete the TOK Exhibition and TOK Essay assessments which satisfy the IB Core Course requirement.

This course is required for all IB Diploma Candidates. Students who are interested in Theory of Knowledge but do who do not want to take the full IB Theory of Knowledge course should take either the one-mod Theory of Knowledge (REL450R) course or the two-mod Theory of Knowledge: Exhibition (REL620A) course.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 4.0-4.0

Prerequisite: Final grades of B+ in at least two courses in English, history, language, math, or science in the year preceding that in which IB ToK is to be taken or enrollment in the full IB Diploma Program.

Open to: 11, 12

Navajo Culture and Spirituality (in Arizona)

This course is cross-listed as MUL881S (Extradisciplinary). See MUL881S (Extradisciplinary) in the Extradisciplinary section of the catalog for description.

Min-Max Credit Hours: 1.0-1.0

Prerequisite: none

Open to: 11, 12

Hear from Students and Faculty

Safi Baadarani-Feeney ’22 Collects School Supplies for Lebanon

George School student Safi Baadarani-Feeney ’22 found a way to help those impacted by this summer’s explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, by partnering with Beit El Baraka, a non-profit which has directed its efforts towards assisting with recovery from the incident. Safi has family members that were directly impacted by the explosion and while they were not harmed, he wanted to do something to help the community.

Religion or Religions?

Learning about some of the major religious traditions of the world—including their symbols, practices, rituals, and representations of the divine—is a wonderful portal into the discipline of becoming a world citizen.

Creating Community at the Quaker Youth Leadership Conference

On Thursday, February 4, 2021, 150 students and teachers from 25 Friends high schools from the US and Canada gathered virtually to participate in the 2021 Quaker Youth Leadership Conference. After the event, we asked the six George School students about their experiences.

George School Honored in Hanoi

George School was honored in Hanoi, Vietnam on Friday, June 21, 2019 for our help in establishing a strong friendship with the Vietnam-US Society (VUS). The award was presented to faculty members Ralph Lelii, Chéri Mellor, and Carter Sio ’76 for their ongoing support of the program and many visits to the country.

Discovering Kindness

In George School, I’ve found kindness in many places. My junior summer, I joined a service trip abroad. I wasn’t familiar with anyone on the trip, and it was quite daunting to suddenly be traveling to Japan and to be spending time with new people!