Program for the Study of World Religion and Philosophy
This program promotes religious understanding and tolerance in young people through the academic study of and personal encounter with the world’s major religious traditions. Fundamental to this program is the belief that meaningful religious understanding has both an intellectual and an experiential component.
The teaching of religion in secondary schools is an area that has received comparatively little attention from mainstream academic institutions, academic societies and publishers. Of course, this is because the teaching of religion as such is banned from public schools and is sometimes dominated by sectarian interests in religiously-affiliated independent schools. However, in recent years this has begun to change with the formation of the American Academy of Religion’s Task Force on Secondary Religious Studies, the Religious Studies in Secondary Schools and Harvard’s Pluralism Project.
At the present time, there are only a relatively small number of secondary schools with programs in world religion that are dedicated to the pluralistic and multicultural academic study of world’s religious traditions and the values, literature, and cultures so inextricably linked to them. Princeton Day School is one of these schools. Also, there are, as of yet, no paradigms or models of such study in wide circulation. Neither are there curricula or textbooks in this area specifically designed for secondary school students.
Through the generous donation of time and money by Infinity Foundation, PDS is in a place where it can further develop its own program and resources for the study of world religion. This program would have both academic and experiential components, combining study in the classroom and encounter with representatives of the world’s religions through travel (locally and globally) and in-school visits. The PDS program could then perhaps even serve as a model for other secondary schools as we develop it and refine it.
From its very beginning, Princeton Day School has felt that the study of religion is an important and indispensable part of our upper school curriculum. Classes in religion, covering a broad range of topics, have been offered for over 40 years by a variety of faculty members. The formal religion requirement of one year of study was instituted in 1970 by then Head of School, Doug McClure. Recently, the first endowed faculty chair in PDS history was named in honor of Dr. Carl Reimers (long-time head of the religion department).
In recent years, the religion department, with the guidance and help of Carlton Tucker (Head of Upper School), has broadened the scope of its curricular offerings to include a broader range of the world’s religions (particularly Eastern religions). The program outlined below is an outline of the current and proposed future shape of the religion program at PDS.
A. The Bible as a Basis for Western Culture (currently offered)
B. Sacred Traditions (currently offered)
C. Introduction to Philosophy (currently offered & proposed change)
D. Sacred Journeys: India (proposed)
Students will supplement their academic study with a trip to India during spring break. While all are strongly encouraged to go on this trip, students unable to go will be offered opportunities to visit ashrams, temples, etc. in the tri-state area. Given the nature of the course, it will be desirable for students to have taken Sacred Traditions or another religion course. The course would be designed to help prepare students for their journey to India in the spring in order to make it a truly meaningful educational experience.
As part of the class, students will do research ahead of time on a specific aspect of the trip (an ashram, a temple, a religious community or figure, etc.) and prepare a report to be given as a presentation to the class in India. These reports will then be assimilated into an informational WWW site to be created after the trip (see below).
Also, on the trip, students will engage in a trip-related project of their own design. Examples of projects might be journal-keeping, film-making, photography, journalism, study of art and architecture, etc. These then could become part of a presentation made to the school, parents, or other interested parties.
These projects, along with other student research, will be incorporated into a PDS Program for the Study of World Religion WWW site on religion and culture in India that would promote our goal of religious understanding and tolerance. Student research, work, photographs, art, writing, etc. would only be used with permission and individual student names and photographs would only be used if necessary and with proper parental permission.
E. PDS Summer Education in World Religion
A. Sacred Traditions (1998-99)
B. Improvement of Princeton Day School’s Research Resources in World Religion (1999-2000)
C. PDS Faculty Trip to India to Plan and Arrange Subsequent Student Journeys (Summer 2000)
D. Launch of “Sacred Journeys: India” WWW Site (Fall 2000)
E. Inaugural Sacred Journey to India (Spring 2001)
materials will be used to further enhance the WWW site.
F. PDS Summer Education in World Religion (Summer 2001)
G. Sacred Journeys: India (2001-2002)
IV. Future Plans
A. Creation of a School-Wide Curriculum for the Study of World Religion
B. Conducting workshops for teachers on teaching world religions in secondary schools, bringing in recognized experts to lead sessions on a variety of topics.
C. Creation of a curriculum and textbook on Vedanta and Hinduism which could be used in secondary schools. Discussions on this project have already begun and the Infinity Foundation has expressed interest in supporting it.