Student investigates longstanding religion requirement

Marc Harary, Contributing Writer

Let’s talk about religion. Well, let me explain. Like most other conscientious parents, my mother was always quick to remind me that there exist three inviolable topics that one must avoid discussion at all costs in casual social situations, her three commandments of sorts: money, politics, and religion. This line of reasoning only begs the question: if religion is so diverse a subject, then why would such a progressive institution as Princeton Day School endeavor to make religion a requisite component of its curriculum? After all, the effect is wholly unequivocal; religion, according to PDS’s philosophy, must clearly not just be an acceptable, but necessary element of its educational values. It might almost appear, for a worrying moment, that the goal is to instill religious faith.

The most direct answer to the foregoing question of why Princeton Day School requires at least one religion credit is that it simply always has. As early as the era of its previous incarnations, Miss Fine’s School and Princeton Country Day, comparative religious studies were a compulsory component of the curriculum.

Independent traditional schools were, and still are, often associated with a a particular religion and incorporated t at least a limited amount of doctrine in their courses of study, in what one might call a “faith-based” education. Notwithstanding the fact that both Miss Fine’s and PCD were both non- denominational, religious studies were in vogue amongst private schools, particularly in the mid-twentieth century and so remained part of their curricula when they united to form Princeton Day School.

However, many would argue that the true reasons for the religion requirement’s continued existence are much more profound. Head of the History Department Howard Powers argued that exposure to religious studies fosters greater empathy amongst students for foreign cultures and faiths, and enormous advantage and imperative skill in an increasingly globalized world.

“The ability to connect with people who have different traditions is a gift. You have an enormous leg up have an enormous leg up when you’re used to thinking about how other people thing,” he said. A broader fuller “religious literacy” also creates a more meaningful understanding of the countless religious backgrounds that comprise the ever-more diverse PDS community. “Misunderstanding hurts our community. [Religious studies] help us better understand our differences,” said Upper School history teacher Dave Freedholm.

Having a fundamental religious understanding is also indispensable when it comes to interacting with, and briefly partaking in, different cultures across the world. Mr. Freedholm cited his trips with students to India and China, where a knowledge of religious customs, much like proficiency in a foreign language, has led to more meaningful interactions between students and people they encounter.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a confusing and ambiguous world where one answer is as good as the next. It is also a world that is increasingly globalized, one in which it is all but mandatory to maintain a fluency in others’ perceptions of it. A religion requirement is necessary to understand not only foreign cultures, but also our roles as citizens of a cosmopolitan society that demands empathy for other different schools of thought. Mom, unfortunately, was not right. If there is one thing we should talk about, it is religion.

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