Is there a deeper meaning to our lives? Who are we and where might we be going? What are the world views and practices that have helped humankind to achieve fuller purpose and morally order society?
As old as the talent for symbolic thought, the human urge to find higher principles and celebrate sacred reality has helped people confront fears, respond to deep questions and seek the wisdom of religion and philosophy. In a world that is more clearly interconnected than for any other generation, it is vital for students to look inward and outward with care to become global citizens.

Starting with an introduction to the academic study of religion, our Third Form students encounter an array of religious traditions through an application of five key academic skills in religious studies (reading, writing, critiquing, researching, and comparing). The curriculum then opens to depth studies of religious themes and specific traditions, as well as inquiries into the fields of ethics and philosophy topics. Beyond the minimum two course requirement, one finds a demanding and vibrant array of interdisciplinary classes for Fourth and Fifth Form students.

The religion and philosophy journey is distinct at the School for the way our concerns are at once field-specific and highly germane to other subjects, not to mention the art of living. By learning to see through the three vital lenses of world view, complex idea and thick description, our students gain skills that travel well with them and enhance their capacity for empathetic and critical inquiry. Through combining an academic and existential approach to all the “big questions,” the study of religion and philosophy is one in which rigorous thinking and a sense for life’s journey advance together.

Explore Our Courses

  • IN538 - Varieties of Religious Experience

    This course will find its entryway into religion through a reading of selective autobiographies of memorable figures from diverse faiths. The texts chosen will be treated as literature offering windows into the spiritual lives of the authors and as landmark religious documents that shed light on critical social and religious issues both within and across traditions. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary 1IN/1RP Cr.; Terms: T1; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • IN542 - The Karma Of Words

    The intention of this course is to bring religion and philosophy to bear on the study of literature, while using the authors and great works studied as windows into religion and philosophy. The Karma of Words will focus primarily on the classic and modern literature of Japan. The Confucian, Taoist, Zen Buddhist traditions and aesthetic treatises of medieval Japanese poets and Samurai will provide the religious and philosophical materials. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary 1IN/1RP Cr.; Terms: T2; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • IN544 - Religious Dimensions Of Music

    This interdisciplinary course will address and explore how music has shaped and formed the development of religious traditions, and how religious traditions shaped and formed the development of music. Through the study of the musical dimensions of Buddhism, Christianity, Balinese Hinduism, and Islam, among others, as well as the religious dimensions of Jazz, American folk music, the organ, the gamelan, J. S. Bach, and early sacred music, the course is designed to surface the connections, intersections and distinctions between religion and music. Through this deep inquiry, students will learn to listen to music with greater understanding, and to integrate their understanding and think critically about the complex ideas inherent in these two disciplines. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary 1IN/1RP Cr.; Terms: T2; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course or Department Approval.
  • IN546 - Religion And Ecology

    Our perception of the natural world and the environment, and man's responsibility toward the natural environment is shaped by many influences. Human-nature interactions are shaped by cultural constructions, cosmology, and ethics. Science can describe the relationships but it cannot prescribe meaning to these ecological verities. What makes a place sacred, and what is man's place in the natural world? In this course, we will explore how spirituality and world religions understand and value the natural world, and how geography, nature, and ecology itself influence the development of religious thought and practice. As the global environmental crisis grows, what is the potential role of religions in managing this crisis? Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary 1IN/1RP Cr.; Terms: T3; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • IN550 - Makers Modern Mind

    A two-term offering, Makers of the Modern Mind will address itself to the history of ideas at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the twentieth. The first part of the course will establish the elements of thought and practice that constitute “Modernism” through Kant, Darwin, Marx, and Kierkegaard. In the second part, while those thinkers will still come under discussion, the course will focus more on literature and language as we examine the deconstructive implications that emerge from the modern consciousness as represented by Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. Students will write original philosophical papers and fiction as well as the standard critical papers. Accordingly, extensive reading and seminar papers are an integral part of this course. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary NCAA 2IN/2RP Cr.; Terms: T2 and T3; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • IN554 - The Universe Story

    The prolific and paradigm changing scientific discoveries of the past one hundred and fifty years have radically changed our understanding of the origins and development of the universe and the biological life within it. For the first time in human history we are able to posit a complete scientific cosmology, an epic of evolution, that tells the important story of emerging life and growing complexity. This story, like the great mythic narratives of our ancestors can and should help us live in better accordance with the reality of the truths it shows us. Yet, we continue to live the toxic stories of endless resources and an objectification of nature. These stories have lead us to the horrors of mass extinction and to the reality of climate change. This course will examine new scientific cosmology, and paradigms that compete with their story for our allegiance. We will look at the specific natural world around us, the environmental challenges that are emerging, ecological restoration projects, the sixth extinction, and climate change. Intensive reading, Harkness discussion, individual and group research, multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary thinking, and outdoor experience are all integrals parts of the learning for this two-term elective. Extensive reading and seminar papers are an integral part of this course. Students enrolling in the course and intersted in the intersections of religions and nature should consider taking Religion and Ecology in the Spring. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary NCAA; 2IN/2RP Cr.; Terms: T1 and T2; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • IN558 - Bioethics

    Pick up a newspaper. Flick on Fox or MSNBC. What do you see? Bioethical dilemmas… everywhere. Should the government quarantine health workers returning home from fighting Ebola? Should we treat infected people with experimental drugs? Should parents vaccinate their children against measles and pertussis? Is it a problem if they decide to opt-out? Then, there are those perennial favorites: Abortion. Death-with-Dignity. Human Enhancement. Even if you try to avoid the news, change your homepage to Facebook, and hide under a virtual rock… you won’t escape bioethics. All you have to do is go to Abbott for lunch. Should you eat that juicy hamburger? Or spare the cow and make a hummus sandwich, instead? What is Right? How do you know? And what should you do about it? This two-term course challenges students to blend science and ethics to develop thoughtful positions on complex issues. Grants: Honors Interdisciplinary NCAA 2IN/1SC/1RP Cr.; Terms: T2 and T3; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: SC321 or SC325 and any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • RP100 - Religious Studies for Lawrentians

    As a vital expression of the human quest for meaning and universal part of all cultures, the study of world religions is essential to the education of world citizens. This foundational course will explore the essential teachings, practices and living worldviews of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While every class section will acquire its own "flavor," all students will encounter a core Language of Understanding through a case studies approach and nurture the essential deep thinking skills of complex idea, worldview and thick description. This course meets once a week for a year and is only available to students in The Lawrentians. Grants: NCAA; Terms: All; Forms: IV Prereqs: PA304
  • RP302 - Introduction to Religious Studies

    As a vital expression of the human quest for meaning and universal part of all cultures, the study of world religions is essential to the education of world citizens. This foundational 3rd Form course will explore the essential teachings, practices and living worldviews of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While every class section will acquire its own "flavor," all students will encounter a core Language of Understanding through a case studies approach and nurture the essential deep thinking skills of complex idea, worldview and thick description. Terms: T1 or T2 or T3; Forms: III
  • RP402 - Social Ethics And Genocide

    This course endeavors to study the Holocaust from a variety of angles and with the utilization of many methods. Through the use of texts (including the curriculum guide published by the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education), memoir, documents, film, interview and speakers, students will explore the nature of human behavior and experience, Holocaust literature and biography, history and religious response. Terms: T1 or T2; Forms: III or IV or V Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP407 - Studies In Christian Origins

    This course begins with a study of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christian gospels, and the development of the early Christian community. The Gnostic Gospels and the most recent scholarship of the Jesus Seminar are also considered. Historical study will be accomplished through presentations on Christian figures including Hildegard of Bingen for Medieval Christianity, Dame Julian of Norwich for the Reformation, and Dorothy Day for 20th century Christianity. Field trips to Christian communities and interviews with practioners are central to this course. Terms: T3; Forms: III or IV or V Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP409 - Judaism

    This course encompasses the history and origins of various denominations of Judaism. Students also study Jewish Holy days, traditions, and customs pertaining to the life-cycle of a Jewish person. To conclude the course we will study the Holocaust through the lives of two witnesses. We pay particular attention to the many interpretations of Jewish Law in our modern age. Class discussions, individual research, and film are the mediums through which we explore Judaism. Terms: T3; Forms: III or IV or V Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP412 - Islamic Studies

    Muslims have been in America for hundreds of years. These numbers began to increase dramatically in the 20th century through immigration and through the conversion of significant numbers of African-Americans. The immigration acts of the 1960’s saw another large numbers of Muslims immigrate to this country. Now, mosques are an integral part of the American religious landscape, and Muslims will soon be the largest American religious minority. Read, research, and discuss these changes. Terms: T3; Forms: III or IV or V Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP413 - Ethics

    What constitutes "right" living, thinking, and acting? Ethical decision-making affects all levels of society from our family life to our global community. Students are exposed to basic ethical frameworks provided by global secular and religious systems. Students will be exposed to a multicultural approach to various universalist (Utilitarian, Rights Ethics, Virtue Ethics for example) and relativist theories and apply their reasoning skills in class discussions/debates. Terms: T2 or T3; Forms: III or IV or V Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP414 - Philosophy

    This course considers questions like: what if what you think is real is actually a virtual reality program? If the contents of your mind, including your memories, were switched with a friend's, who would you be? How is it that "wax" describes a substance that is hard, smooth, and cool, but is also one that is gooey, hot and liquid-like? The first topic lies within the area of metaphysics and epistemology, the second is personal identity and the third within the philosophy of language. Sources ranging from Plato to Neo ("The Matrix") will aid in our philosophical exploration. Students enrolling in this course and who are intersted in philosophical inquiry and argumentation should also consider taking Makers of the Modern Mind in the Winter and Spring. Grants NCAA; Terms: T1; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP420 - Buddhist Studies

    This class will be the second in a sequence of Buddhist studies courses, and it can be taken as a stand-alone, or a follow-up to the first one. Beginning with a study of historical and legendary accounts by which “dharma” was transmitted from India to China, we will proceed to explore Zen in both its traditional monastic and more flexible cultural guises. To do so will require a range of “Zen in the Art of…” studies that will span from East Asia to the West and include the reading of both traditional sources, and such classics as The Book of Tea, Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North, Zen in the Art of Archery and poetry and essays by Gary Snyder. Terms: T3; Forms: III or IV or V; Prereqs: RP301 or RP302
  • RP515 - Jerusalem

    This 10 week course covers the history (pre-Biblical through today), geography, religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam and their ties to the city, art and architecture) with support from archaeology- some of which is ongoing. Special attention will be paid to lessons on religious and cultural conflicts in the city from within (Ch. of Holy Sepulchre, Haredi/Ultra Orthodox Judaism control over religious sites, and roles of women.) Our main text: Simon Sebag Montefiore's biography of the city entitled: 'Jerusalem' as well as the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, with support from a wide variety of articles and reports on archaeological findings. Mini-units in things like Roman glass, antiquities, unique foods of the region, and the development of the four quarters of the city. Potential spring break trip to Jerusalem with special projects, archaeological digging, religious and cultural exploration. Grants: Honors; Terms: T1; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course.
  • RP521 - Topics in Religion: Religion and Film

    Topics in Religion is designed to offer seniors a course that looks at modern topics in the fields of religion and philosophy. In academic year 2016-17, the topic will be religion and film. Many students have seen more movies than have read books. Film is a central part of global culture, whether that is in movies, You Tube clips, iphone movies or any other wide selection of film formats. Persuasive arguments have been made that film acts as the new mythology of our time. In the full involvement of color, sound, dialogue, and image, movies tell a story. Often these stories transmit cultural values. Often those values are religious and ethical. The course will look at religious and ethical themes that often appear in modern films: the journey, conflict between good and evil, moral choice, sacrifice, and the power of giving to name just a few. Grants: Honors; Terms: T2; Forms: V
  • RP522 - Topics in Religion: Hindu Myth in the Modern World

    While a 1966 Time magazine made a splash with its “Is God Dead?” front cover, the Hindu mythic imagination continues to make sport (lila) of such claims. From their Indian point of origin to recent western manifestations, we will explore how Hindu myths pattern the world and are “read” in manifold ways. The course offers a mix of the classic and modern through text, film, art, culture and politics. Students can expect ample research and writing components; and will be well prepared for winter or spring Buddhism as potential follow-up classes. Grants: Honors; Terms: T1; Forms: V
  • RP523 - Topics in Religion: Religion and Violence

    All religions teach that peace and justice are core components of their nature. Yet, the reality is that members of religions often use religious principles to justify violence towards others. What are we to make of this? How should we understand it? Religiously justified violence is a theme in our world. This course will look at various case studies of the interaction between religion and violence and their relevance to our current world from multiple religious perspectives. As a 500 level course you can expect sustained reading and multiple kinds of writing. Grants: Honors; Terms: T1; Forms: V
  • RP530 - Applied Ethics

    This class will be the second in a sequence of Ethical Philosophy courses, and it can be taken as a stand-alone, or a follow-up to the first one (Introduction to Ethics). It will examine four different case studies of contemporary ethical dilemmas, ranging from topics such as immigration and animal rights to distributive justice and affirmative action, as mean to cultivating a variety of differing responses through argumentative, research essays. In order to achieve this, students will be required to read a range of primary sources from the classical theorists of moral philosophy as well as the contemporary iterations of those theories. Hence, they will be asked to read and apply the theories of such thinkers as Aristotle, Mill, Hume, and Kant, alongside those of Rawls, Dewey, Singer and Foucault, so as to argue for potential solutions to some of the most complex quandaries of modern society. Accordingly, extensive reading and seminar papers are an integral part of this course. Students enrolling in this course and who are interested in philosophical inquiry and argumentation should also consider taking Makers of the Modern Mind in the Winter and Spring. Grants: Honors; Terms: T1; Forms: V
  • RP599 - Ind Study: Relig & Philos

    Students with special interests they wish to explore outside the regular program of courses may apply to drop one course for one term and use the time for independent study. This may involve research or creative work; normally it will culminate in a paper, exhibit, or performance of some kind. Work in such projects is treated exactly like work in regular courses: a final grade is given; students must meet regularly (at least twice a week) with their advisor; they must have tangible progress to report at each meeting. Grants: Honors; Terms: T1 or T2 or T3; Forms: IV or V; Prereqs: Any 400 or 500 level Religion and Philosophy (RP) course and Department Approval.

Our Faculty

  • Thomas Collins, Jr.

    Chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department
    Indiana University - M.A.
    Lewis and Clark College - B.A.
  • Philip Jordan '85

    Religion and Philosophy Master; Leader for Buddhism
    Harvard Divinity School - M.A.
    Williams College - B.A.
  • Lauren Levy H'97 '01 P'01 '02 '09

    Religion Master; School Rabbi
    Reconstructionist Rabbinical College - M.A.H.L.
    Temple University - B.A.
    Temple University - M.A.
  • Sue Anne Steffey Morrow H'12

    Director of Spiritual and Religious Life; Religion Master; Chaplain
    Skidmore College - B.A.
    Union Theological Seminary New York - M.Div.
  • Jason VonWachenfeldt, Ph.D.

    Co-Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program
    Georgetown University - Ph.D.
    Union Theological Seminary - M.A.
    University of Mary Hardin-Baylor - B.A.
Through House and Harkness, Lawrenceville challenges a diverse community of promising young people to lead lives of learning, integrity, and high purpose.  Our mission is to inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.