Religious Studies and Philosophy

Exploring timeless questions of meaning, value and purpose in today's multicultural context.

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

  • Exploring Quaker testimonies through reflection, dialogue, and service which speak to the pedagogy and foundation of Friends education.
  • Seeking deeper religious and multicultural literacy, allowing students to converse across different religious, secular and cultural perspectives in search of common ground.
  • Raising philosophical and ethical questions about individual and collective behavior in order to better equip students to lead lives that make a difference.

“My Bioethics class made me question my beliefs in the best way possible. I feel much more developed in my understanding of myself and what my morals are, as well as how to interact and come to an understanding with those whose values differ from mine.” Caroline Robertson OPC '18


Key Characteristics

Departmental elective offerings include ethical reasoning, comparative studies, and philosophical analysis and cultural critiques. Some of our electives also have the opportunity to engage in service learning where students will engage with local community members. All class sessions emphasize cooperative learning, reflection and discussion.

Curricular Highlights

  • Service learning in tandem with the Center for Public Purpose
  • Team-taught and interdisciplinary courses
  • Project-based and problem-solving pedagogy

"I think that I have grown a lot spiritually from all of the various Religious Studies classes that I have taken. I feel like Quaker values have been instilled in me, and growing up in a environment with Quakers made it easier for me to find my connection with others and God." Justin Ko OPC '18

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.

Course List

All Year




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)

One Semester

Quaker Principles and Practice

R301, R302

This course explores the history and testimonies of Friends, including simplicity, equality, community, nonviolence and integrity. 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 Quaker 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.)



Bioethics is an interdisciplinary courses that seeks to understand both the science and moral dimensions behind major bioethical questions today. 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. 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. 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 and Quaker Principles and Practices.

Comparative Religions I


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. This course provides one credit toward the Certificate of Global Studies.  (11th, 12th grades) Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices.

Peace, Justice and Social Change I


This course will examine the early U.S. Civil Rights Movement in a broad context of 20th-century social movements. We will analyze the African American freedom movement’s influence on notions of equality, democracy and social policy. We will give particular emphasis to events from 1954 through 1962, with connections  to the present day. We will examine the connections between Brown v. Board and school segregation today; between the Montgomery County Bus Boycott and Freedom Riders and the Black Lives Matter Movement. 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 and legal developments important to the development of civil rights in America. The class structure will utilize speakers, local leadership and community groups, and possible fieldwork to explore these movements. Students will engage with the course material through a combination of readings, films, images, class discussions and lectures. Students enrolled in this course may receive either social studies or religious studies credit. Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices. (11th, 12th grades)

Leadership: Past, Present and Future


This course will focus on the theory and practice of leadership, while exploring leadership figures of the past and present. We will define, individually and collectively, what it means to be a leader, and we will explore varied leadership styles and approaches from the past and today. Through texts, articles, videos and guest speakers, our goal is to help students develop the skills needed to navigate a wide range of potential leadership challenges and opportunities they may face, both currently and in the future. Some of the themes, models and constructs we will examine include: emerging vs. appointed leadership, leadership in context, central relationship between “leader” and “follower,” values-based decision making, servant leadership, the role of gender in leadership. Among other assessments and assignments, students will engage in two case studies—one of a past leader and one of a present leader. The final project for this course will be a compilation of short essays and a presentation that will include an in-depth self-reflection through the lens of leadership.  

Environmental Ethics


This course will explore the moral dimensions that stem from relationships between humans, nonhumans and the natural world. We begin with a variety of religious and secular world views that examine the place of human beings in the natural world. We then will move into the classical ethical theories of utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, and virtue-based approaches. Students will explore the benefits and limitations of these approaches given the social and political contexts of environmental justice. We will then move into the applied ethics of sustainability of natural resources, food production and animal rights, and the individual and collective moral challenges of climate change. Students will also be engaged in local environmental projects and stewardship practices both on and off campus. This course provides one credit toward the Certificate of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability. Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices.

Comparative Religions II


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. This course provides one credit toward the Certificate of Global Studies.  Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices (11th, 12th grades)

Interpersonal Communication in the Digital Age: Friends, Following and Feuding



“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. Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices.

Seminar on Poverty


This course examines the nature and extent of poverty primarily in Philadelphia but will also compare other major cities in the United States. We will focus on how poverty is defined and measured, exploring how conceptions of poverty are socially constructed and historically bounded.  Throughout the class, we will examine what the causes and effects of poverty are and discuss how these are complex and interwoven; showing how people can experience poverty at different points in their life—some groups experiencing poverty more than others. This course will discuss the role of labor markets, family structure and social organizations and how they shape poverty. And finally, it will explore how social policies seek to ameliorate poverty in our city. Students will engage with the course material through a combination of different mediums (readings, films, images, class discussions, lectures, guest speakers, field trips and service). Course materials will also draw from a variety of disciplines that may include economics, education, political science, psychology, philosophical and religious ethics, public policy analysis and social work. Prerequisite: Quaker Principles and Practices.