The big questions.

Throughout history, religion has expressed the deepest questions a human being can ask. Who am I? What can I know? How should I act? At Pomfret, these questions call out for better understanding. The main goal of the Religion Department is to foster a healthy respect for all religions, and to ensure that every Pomfret student will, in a classroom setting, engage with the "six big questions" that form the core issues of faith-centered communities the world over.

Fall and Winter » The Power of Story: Film, Faith, & the Human Spirit

The Power of Story: Film, Faith, and the Human Spirit. No other art form shapes our national consciousness as much as film. Stories told on celluloid can have a unique and immediate impact upon our view of ourselves and the search for meaning in our lives. In this course, we look at a series of films that illuminate the human spirit and remind us of the power and importance of storytelling in our understanding of what it means to be human. We will explore the transformative power of personal narrative and how the seeing, hearing, and telling of these stories can impact the individual and communal imagination. The course may count toward the fulfillment of either a student’s religion or art graduation requirement.

Fall » Introduction to World Religions: Wilderness & Community

This course serves as an introduction to the world’s major enduring religions through a journey that will delve into five of the world’s oldest religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – in order to examine two major themes at the heart of these traditions: wilderness and community. Our attention to the major practices, beliefs, figures, and stories that are integral to each tradition will help guide our questioning, thinking, learning, and discovery about the ways in which both wilderness and community are concepts and realities at the heart of spirituality. Required reading texts will include Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, and Huston Smith’s The Illustrated World’s Religions. The course will also be highly experiential, including an overnight camping trip, a hike in the woods, and visits to a food kitchen/shelter, a neighborhood restaurant, and a local church and synagogue, all with the aim of knowing more about the true shape of wilderness and community. Open to all grade levels.

Spring » The Happiness Project

Religion elective courses in this series called, On Being, are inspired by the vision and work of Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and New York Times best-selling author, Krista Tippett. On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. At its heart, On Being does well what each Pomfret School religion course also strives to do: open up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? Each course within this series aims to explore elements of religious experience and expression, faith-seeking understanding, emerging paths of spirituality, and the development of individual and communal moral imagination. The work of these courses centers on human experience and some of life’s most significant questions, challenges, and pursuits. These courses will develop skills inherent in the art and practice of communication, reflection, creation, and being. Students will write essays, read novels, watch films, see art, practice conversation, and make their learning process visible in a variety of forms.

Can happiness be a project? Is the pursuit of happiness an intentional endeavor that can be practiced, learned, and discovered, or is happiness something that is simply attained as a byproduct of life, gained while people are busy making other plans? This course will set about the journey of considering these big questions in the context of defining happiness and determining how it may be attainable in life and in a lifetime. Students will seek to find what essential elements accompany happiness, and consider the biographies, stories, and examples of people’s lives who seem to have discovered this highly sought after and often elusive state of being. Through consideration and study of the lives of some of the world’s most famously happy people (the Dalai Lama, for example), as well as conducting research and interviews into the lives of some of the happiest people we know personally, the work of the course will allow the revelations and celebrations and sharing of what we discover of happiness to become our project. Open to sophomores, juniors and seniors or by departmental approval.

Winter and Spring » Wisdom 101: Contemplative Practices

The mind-body relationship in human consciousness and the practice of connecting head and heart runs deep to the core of spirituality and religious experience. This course will consider becoming more mindful through the contemplative practices of meditation, prayer, silence, and fasting. Every culture cultivates ways to recognize and diminish the mind's delusions in order to directly, intimately experience a wider and deeper reality that enriches human compassion and invites responsive care. The highly experiential work of this course will engage in a careful investigation of contemplative practices from a combined third-person and first-person perspective. From a first-person perspective, each student will be required to commit to a meditation practice throughout the term to become practitioners in the lab of the mind. From a third-person perspective, we will study cross-cultural gurus, religious figures, spiritual leaders and teachers who have interpreted ancient wisdom through the contexts of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, secularism, and the arts and sciences. This course has academic, experiential, and fieldwork components that will require reading texts, writing weekly responses, practicing meditation in and outside of class, and field trips.

Spring » Astronomy III: Our Universe & the Human Worldview

This astronomy course is the third in a series of three, any of which can be taken individually. This term, the class will look at the Universe as a whole, considering the long history of ideas and discoveries about it. You'll ask the biggest questions of all, like "Where did the Universe come from?", "How will it end?", and "Do aliens exist?" You'll be asked to participate in many lively discussions where you'll share your own views while learning about the history of science's understanding of the Universe. Movies, TV documentaries, and other multi-media presentations online will help jump start your inquiring mind, and you’ll work on lab activities that explore some of these big ideas. You’ll be asked to reflect on your personal beliefs, lean into the challenge of having them questioned, and politely consider other students’ points of view. In the end, you’ll have a great understanding of the Universe, its properties and origins, and the new problems that scientists face in our total comprehension of everything around us. Each astronomy elective is a distinct course and can be taken as a one-time experience or as a series of connected classes. Students currently enrolled in the Astronomy II elective will be given enrollment priority when new courses are selected each term. This course may satisfy a student's science or religion requirement.

Summer » Peace, Wonder & Understanding Islam

Take a deep dive into the belief system surrounding the Islamic faith through this travel program built in partnership with Rustic Pathways. Morocco is an Islamic nation rich in history and culture, and it is the perfect place to observe, questions, participate, and learn the foundational principles of Islam. Islam is often misrepresented in media and politics, leading to misunderstanding, polarization, and fear surrounding the core tenets of Islam. In Morocco we will study the roots of these pervasive stereotypes, explore pathways to peace through shared understanding, and build empathy by engaging with Muslims in Morocco. The course offers morning workshops with Islamic experts, university professors, Quran scholars, and religious leaders called imams. We will discuss gender roles in Islamic society and meet with a female imam (a mursheda) to gain her perspective, examine the role of media in reinforcing stereotypes, and learn the historic and cultural importance of major Islamic holidays and observances, including Ramadan, which takes place during our trip. We will also travel to an outlying village to explore the role of religion in rural communities far outside the city. Students will keep a reflection journal and gather information that permits each participant to address three personal and critical questions about the Islamic faith and traditions, the structure and practices of Muslim society, and/or the misrepresentations of Islam in the media. Each student will be assessed based on his/her participation and curiosity, the reflection journal, the quality and depth of the critical question responses, and an annotated photo essay of the student’s time in Morocco.

Bobby Fisher

Bobby Fisher

Director of Spiritual and Ethical Education