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)
The Bible as a Basis for Western Culture” is an introductory course, usually for 9-10 graders, which examines the origins of Judaism and Christianity through the study of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures (the New Testament). As such, this course focuses on Western religion, specifically Judeo-Christianity.
B. Sacred Traditions (currently offered)
Sacred Traditions” is an introductory course on world religions, usually for 9-10 graders. They learn about the world’s great religious traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) through academic study and encounter with representatives of many of these religions. This course, while covering Western religion, emphasizes Eastern religion.
C. Introduction to Philosophy (currently offered & proposed change)
Introduction to Philosophy” is an advanced course, usually for 11-12 graders, which introduces students to the discipline of philosophy. Over the past five years, the course has focused on Western philosophy. It is proposed that, beginning in the 2000-2001 calendar year, the philosophy course will strike a balance between Western and Eastern philosophy. Of course, Eastern philosophy and religion are often inextricably intertwined.
D. Sacred Journeys: India (proposed)
Sacred Journeys: India” will be an advanced course, usually for older students (11-12 grades), which will cover the history and culture of India with a focus on its unique and vibrant religious tradition as birthplace and home of many of the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, etc.). Special attention will be paid to Vedanta, which is the philosophy of the oldest Hindu scriptures (the Vedas) and the basis for all the varied forms of Hinduism and many of the other religions originating in India.
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
This course will be an opportunity for young people from the community to learn about and experience world religions in the summer. The specific content of the summer course will be determined by the instructor.
A. Sacred Traditions (1998-99)
Implemented in the 1998-99 school year. This class started in its first year with one section of eighteen students and now in 1999-2000 has three sections with fifty students. The structure and design of the class will continue to be modified and improved.
B. Improvement of Princeton Day School’s Research Resources in World Religion (1999-2000)
Due to a generous grant from Infinity Foundation, PDS’s research and instructional resources (books, videos, CD-ROMs, etc.) in the area of world religion will be greatly enhanced and improved in the 1999-2000 school year. This project is well underway and the first large installment of resources will be bought in the next few weeks.
C. PDS Faculty Trip to India to Plan and Arrange Subsequent Student Journeys (Summer 2000)
Planning a student trip like this will require considerable care and effort. It seems prudent and necessary that a scouting trip to India be taken by trip leaders to help decide on sites to be visited, to test the viability of itineraries and travel methods, to investigate places for lodging and eating, to make contact with potential guides and with religious leaders and communities in India in preparation for visits, and to get a sense generally for what the shape of a student trip to India would be like in terms of logistics, health, safety, etc. Given constraints of time and preparation, this trip would have to be taken early in the summer of 2000. Infinity Foundation has generously agreed to share the cost of this trip with PDS.
D. Launch of “Sacred Journeys: India” WWW Site (Fall 2000)
With material from the faculty summer trip to India and the help of the PDS computer department, a pilot of the “Sacred Journeys: India” WWW site will be launched. Students in the Sacred Traditions course will begin to provide information to be placed on the site.
E. Inaugural Sacred Journey to India (Spring 2001)
An initial pilot student trip to India will be offered in and around spring break 2001. This trip will be offered to 10-15 students who have either taken or are taking “Sacred Traditions,” so they will have had a basic exposure to the religions and culture of India. Students will be required to engage in some research in preparation for the journey and will be expected to engage in a project while on the trip (similar to what is outlined above). These
materials will be used to further enhance the WWW site.
F. PDS Summer Education in World Religion (Summer 2001)
This summer course will be offered as part of the PDS Summer School program. It’s specific content will be determined by the instructor.
G. Sacred Journeys: India (2001-2002)
This course, as outlined above, will be made part of the curriculum in the 2001-2002 school year and second trip to India taken in spring 2002.
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.