Religious Studies and Philosophy

Tom Rickards, Department Chair

Penn Charter’s Religious Studies and Philosophy Department aims to provide students with exposure, conversation and research in three integrated areas of study:

  • Understanding the Quaker practice and principles that are the roots of Friends education and the William Penn Charter School.
  • Increasing religious and multicultural literacy. This includes the ability to converse across different religious, secular and cultural perspectives in search of understanding, compromise and common ground.
  • Raising philosophical and ethical questions about individual and collective behavior.

Religious Studies and Philosophy courses at Penn Charter are taught according to the Quaker belief that each person is ultimately guided from within and not from an external authority. Thus, courses do not seek to impose or to persuade students to adopt the convictions of the Religious Society of Friends. Our program is conducted with respect to the diversity of religious backgrounds (or lack thereof) as an important aspect of diversity within the Penn Charter community and beyond.

Graduation Requirements:

Our Quaker mission informs our pedagogy as well as our philosophy of curriculum. Our graduation requirement includes the Quaker Principles and Practice course that provides a foundational starting point for another semester of religious studies or philosophy. After completion of this QPP course, another course elective can be taken in 11th or 12th grade. Departmental offerings include ethical reasoning, comparative studies, and philosophical analysis and argument. Juniors and seniors have the opportunity to engage in service learning as well. All class sessions emphasize cooperative learning, reflection and discussion.

Course Offerings:
R301 Quaker Principles and Practice I R302 Quaker Principles and Practice*
S607 Bioethics

S608 Bioethics

R621 Comparative Religions I

R622 Comparative Religions II

R645 Peace, Justice and Social Change*  

R652 Interpersonal Communication in the Digital Age: Friends, Followers, and Feuding

R603 Environmental Ethics*


SS700 Philosophy



R301, R302

This course explores the history and testimonies of Friends, including simplicity, equality, community and nonviolence. Beyond this grounding in Quakerism and its modern applications, students will engage in critical writing, speaking and reflection. Students will participate in a bi-weekly service project and reflect on how these beliefs are translated into a pursuit for social change in our community. (Open to second semester 9th graders and all 10th graders. Must be completed before end of 10th grade.)


This course will explore the moral dimensions that stem from the relationships between humans, nonhumans and the natural world. Philosophical positions such as conservationism, deep ecology, social ecology and ecofeminism will be explored. We will also explore the applied ethics of expanding human population, sustainability of natural resources, wildlife conservation, and the connections between ecological damage to human poverty and conflicts. Students will also be engaged in local environmental projects and stewardship practices both on and off campus during selected long blocks. (11th, 12th grades)

S607, S608

 Bioethics 1 and 2 are interdisciplinary courses that seeks to understand both the science and moral dimensions behind major bioethical questions today. Each semester the course begins with a survey of ethical theories, logic and arguments and the history of bioethics as a field of study. We also explore questions of health care access, costs and equity in all the bioethical issues we examine. In semester 1, the class focuses on mental health and neuroethics. Students will examine the ethical, legal and social issues raised by mental health treatments and new advances in neuroscience. During semester 2, students will investigate a variety of bioethical topics that might be faced at the beginning and end of life. Regardless of the semester, students use case studies, current events and presentations by guest speakers to enhance their understanding of topics. Students enrolled in this course may receive either science or religious studies and philosophy credit. Prerequisite: Biology. (11th, 12th grades)


This course will begin with an exploration of the definitions and functions of religions. We will then move into an examination of the traditions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism as well as some exploration of secularism and atheism. The pedagogy of the class will be looking at case studies, comparisons, discussions, primary texts and applications to modern life. (11th, 12th grades)


This course will examine the U.S. civil rights movement in a broad context of 20th-century social movements, with particular emphasis on how the African American freedom movement intersected with and influenced debates about equality, democracy, and social justice from the civil rights ('50s-'60s) to the present day. A major focus of this class will be how religion has inspired movements for radical social, political, economic and ecological change throughout history. In addition, the nature and use of nonviolence will be a central theme as we study the different social movements that brought about significant social change in the nation. The basis of our studies will involve the individuals, organizations, events, legal developments important to the development of civil rights justice, speakers representing leadership and local community groups and fieldwork sites. Students will engage with the course material through a combination of readings, films, images, class discussions and lectures. (11th, 12th grades)


This course will begin with an exploration of the definitions and functions of religions. We will then move into an examination of those traditions that emerge out of Asia with a focus on China and India. The primary traditions under examination will include Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. The pedagogy of the class will be looking at case studies, comparisons, discussions, primary texts and applications to modern life. (11th, 12th grades)



“Relationships are made, maintained and broken through talk” - Deborah Tannen

We speak to persuade, influence, cajole... we talk over others, and most times our conversations are personal and through social media platforms. This interdisciplinary course will explore how can we employ some of what we have learned about communication from Quakerism to nurture our relationships, our communities and our lives (school and home) offline. Students will learn the foundations of interpersonal communication theory, the complexity of communication across gender, culture and age through a historical lens, and the added layer of communication through the virtual world. Blending theory with practical, real-world strategies and skill building, students can expect a space to learn and emerge with a communications toolbox that can benefit them both academically, as well as personally.



This year-long course is a thematically-based overview of the great questions of world philosophy. Through careful inquiry, debate and reflection, students will explore issues related to ethics, the state, freedom and choice, and the nature of mind and personal identity. Building upon the foundation laid in 9th, 10th and 11th grade social studies, this course will expose students to the ideas of a diverse array of thinkers, ranging from the very foundations of critical inquiry in ancient Greece, China and India to recent theorists working at the cutting edge of philosophy today, both in the United States and abroad. The course will rely heavily on student-led discussions and activities in preparation for the final project  The culmination of the year of study will occur in the spring when, after specific teacher training, teams of students shall design and lead age-appropriate discussions and activities in both the lower and middle schools on themes covered earlier in the course. Using a Quaker protocol, these teaching teams shall then report and reflect back to the class both in writing and though a mixed media presentation about their teaching experiences. In addition to various handouts, students shall use Green, Engaging Philosophy: A Brief Introduction and Lawhead, Voyage of Discovery: An Historical Introduction to Philosophy. The course shall be limited to 15 students. (12th grade)

Please note that this is a yearlong course. Students are required to take both semesters.  Students are required to take both semesters.   See Social Studies for course description.



Philanthropy 101 is designed to bring the principles of giving to life. Students will become aware of society’s growing needs and start to develop an understanding, desire, ability and instinct for philanthropic service to others. Students will work in nonprofit agencies, schools and/or foundations and will hear from a variety of speakers representing these groups. Readings will reflect the work the students are doing, and the practical experience will augment the classroom work. Through the classroom and the service learning experiences outside the school, students will explore responses from a variety of religious and philosophical positions that ask, Who am I in relationship to the community? How can I give back? In what ways can I make a difference (11th, 12th grades)

This seminar will examine the nature and extent of poverty in the United States and the Philadelphia region. The types of questions to be addressed include the following: What is poverty? Who is the underclass? Why is poverty so persistent? Why are poverty rates for minorities and children so high? What are its effects on families, communities and society? What values does it undermine? What moral and legal rights should the poor have, and what obligations do society, organizations and individuals have to the poor? How has welfare reform changed the playing field? What are the plausible remedies for the negative aspects of poverty?

The approach will be interdisciplinary. Readings and guest speakers will draw from economics, education, political science, psychology, philosophical and religious ethics, public policy analysis and social work. The views on poverty presented to the class will represent a broad spectrum of political, economic and moral opinions. The service incorporated into the course will reflect the particular needs of the community and will be connected to the work in the classroom. Sites might include a local elementary school, community centers and/or social service agencies addressing the issue. This course is limited to nine students. (11th, 12th grades)

Penn Charter

A Friends School for Girls and Boys, Pre-K to 12

3000 West School House Lane Philadelphia, PA 19144 215.844.3460
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