Religion and Philosophy in the Upper School

Agenda Committee at MFSQuakerism is an integral part of life at Moorestown Friends School. Quakers, also known as Friends, believe that everyone has a spiritual dimension and that understanding and developing that dimension is as fundamental to education as mathematics or reading. The Upper School’s emphasis on spiritual education is developed in a number of ways, through service activities, formal classes, and student government. Attention to Quakerism’s central testimonies of integrity, harmony, equality, simplicity, and community is part of a deep commitment on the part of the staff to nurturing the life of the spirit.

A Friends school does not aim to create Quakers, but rather to help young people become aware of the “inward light,” that presence in all of us that provides guidance and direction for living in our complicated world. Moorestown Friends School believes that the religious tradition of each student is strengthened by the understanding of Quaker history, faith, and practice. One of the strengths of a Quaker education is its focus on empowering students to develop and use their talents and gifts within a caring community.

The practices of Quakerism, especially Meeting for Worship, give young people powerful tools for spiritual growth. Meeting for Worship is a setting in which that growth is nurtured. The students gather silently to reflect together. Sometimes meeting begins with a story or brief talk on a topic of concern to the community; we encourage students to speak from their hearts if so moved; always we let the silence work on us together. This quiet time together provides us with focus, with space to be reflective, and with a peaceful center to our busy week. Graduates will often single out Meeting for Worship as the most formative part of their education at Moorestown Friends School.

Students must take religion courses as part of their graduation requirement, although personal belief in religion is never required.

Required Courses

Owning Up
Owning Up is a semester-long course that focuses on social justice and is taught during the spring semester to all freshmen. Students examine the cultural influences on social behavior and expectations. They also explore the meaning of friendship and how to preserve dignity for themselves and community members. Topics include media, music, relationships, reputations, and support.

This class is required for all tenth grade students. The goal of the course is to give students tools to use when they are faced with ethical dilemmas throughout their lives. At the beginning of the year, an issue that is close to students’ hearts is discussed: ethical issues in grading. The course then moves on to explore some tests for distinguishing right from wrong, and some common forms that ethical dilemmas take, such as justice versus mercy. Four different approaches to resolving ethical dilemmas are also covered: Utilitarianism, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, the Religious Approach/Golden Rule, and the Cooperative Approach.  In the last quarter rationalizations are discussed, along with some wider societal issues, such as whether the U.S. should pay ransoms when ISIS takes our citizens hostage, and the ethics of what we eat and drink.

Examples of Minor Electives

A Friends School Legacy
Going to a Quaker school is not enough to really know what Quakers have to teach you. This course is designed to answer these questions: What has the Quaker impact been on US history? What do Quakers believe and why do they act the way they do? What is transformative about their thinking? As graduates of a Quaker school what skills can we learn from Quakers for use in our adult lives? Skills you will learn include: mutually beneficial negotiation; socratic seminar discussion and using a timeline to express ideas.

Ethical Dilemmas in Law, Medicine, and Journalism
In this class we will study the ethical rules that govern doctors, lawyers, and journalists, and ethical issues that arise. What should a lawyer do when he/she knows that his/her client is guilty? What should a doctor do if parents refuse necessary treatment for their child? Should physician-assisted suicide be legal for terminal patients who are suffering great pain? How should journalists decide whether to print or show horribly graphic images of death and destruction in war? This class counts toward the philosophy/religion graduation requirement. Grade is based on short essays assigned approximately once per month.

Harry Potter and Philosophy
This course is designed for students who have read all seven Harry Potter books, as we will not be spending much time reviewing the plot. The grade will be based on short homework essays assigned approximately once a month. Philosophers have defined several different kinds of love. How does the life of Severus Snape embody these types of love, and also the concept of redemption? Philosophers also have a range of views about the existence and nature of the human soul, the qualities of a good leader, and the elements of an excellent education. We will discuss these ideas, and apply them to the world of Harry Potter. This class satisfies the philosophy/religion requirement.

Hospice and Healthcare Service Learning
This course is designed to promote awareness of the needs of families, patients, and caregivers facing difficult healthcare or end-of-life decisions. Students work with residents of Lutheran Home, supporting staff in their efforts to enhance quality of life for the elderly members of the community. The course also discusses how to provide support for family and community members who are managing the hospitalization or grieving process. Students examine the societal context of providing services to families managing grave health care concerns, and the tensions within society around provision of these services. Guest speakers include Samaritan Hospice service providers.

Leadership: Style and Skills
MFS is committed to enabling our students to become effective leaders in organizations, large and small. This course will enable students to develop their skills in public speaking and in persuasive written and oral presentation. It will also enable students to identify and explore their personal leadership style. The course will include readings, case studies, role plays, and presentation opportunities. Since there will be a strong emphasis on how Quaker values influence effective leadership, this course will satisfy the religion requirement.

MFS Peer Leadership Program
The MFS Peer Leadership program will provide seniors with an opportunity to work with ninth grade students as mentors helping them transition to high school, introducing them to Spirit Week and discussing moral and ethical issues. There may also be opportunities to talk with students from other grades and represent MFS at different events.

Women of the Bible
This course focuses on the collection of writings that Jews call the Bible or the Tanakh and Christians call the Old Testament. The Bible describes a sexist and patriarchal society, but was it more sexist or less sexist than later societies? What kinds of stories have modern women written imagining the lives and perspectives of Biblical women? We will read about Eve, and ask whether on balance it was good or bad for humanity that she ate the forbidden fruit. We will study Abigail, who single-handedly prevented a massacre. And we will examine ways that the story of Queen Esther both empowers and degrades women. This class counts toward the religion/philosophy graduation requirement. Grade is based on short essays assigned approximately once per month.

Examples of Senior Major Electives

Religion: War and Peace
If you are aware of the news you are aware that religious identity is often a driver in the dynamics of serious conflict in the modern world. In the last fifteen years the new field of religious peacebuilding, less obvious in the news, has developed and tested a range of peacebuilding tools from within religions and across faiths. In this course we will discover what tends to lead to religions into conflict, how to analyze the stages of conflict, what religious tools work to help create and maintain peace as well as structural changes such as security and economic changes that support peacebuilding. Some of the areas that we will study are the Balkans; Guatemala; Nigeria and Cambodia. Honors Option available at the discretion of the chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department.

The Philosophy, Theology, and Psychology of Happiness
The philosopher Nietzsche once said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how…” This statement sums up why many philosophers and theologians search for meaning and deeper levels of happiness. It matters to us that life has meaning, that the sacrifices we make are done for a reason, and that our suffering has significance. There is some agreement on what practices bring us happiness. Through literature, philosophy, and writings in world faith traditions (Eastern, Western, and traditional), students learn about the search to understand happiness. Students write a major paper or project as well as regular journal responses to the issues posed in class discussion and in readings. Honors Option available at the discretion of the chair of the Religion and Philosophy Department.