Dear Rev. Clooney,
I am chair of the Religious Education Department at B.C. High. When I received your invitation to join in your work as Interreligious Dialogue Coordinator for the Jesuits of the U.S., I was very pleased and excited. Especially in the face of "Dominus Jesus," it is good for us to have the documents of the Thirty-Fourth General Congregation. I sent out copies of your letter and the excerpts from the Congregation to my colleagues in the Department and to the Administrators at the school. Many share my enthusiasm for your efforts and the Society's convictions.
Here is the information you requested:
Religious Diversity: At B.C. High in 1999-2000, 86% of the student body was Roman Catholic The remaining 14% includes many different Protestant and Orthodox Christians, as well as Jewish, Buddhist, and Moslem students.
All the members of the Religion Department are Roman Catholic.
It is a requirement of the Archdiocese that all Religion Teachers be practicing Catholics. Thus far, we have not seen an immediate need based on our situation to carve a different path. There was an intern in our Department last year who was Anglican from Canada. It was terrific working with her. She did teach one section of students several days a week. Most other teachers in the school are also Roman Catholic. I know of only one Protestant.
Teaching and Curriculum: There is not a World Religions course at B.C. High. We have just redesigned our curriculum. It will take three years to put the new curriculum into place. World Religions will become one of the electives for seniors.
For the last few years, there has been a pilot program in the Faith and Justice course for seniors that has been very creative and interesting. This program was first begun by Bruce Pontbriand (email@example.com).
In the first year, Bruce succeeded in creating an interdepartmental course that drew on the expertise of a Social Studies teacher and an Art teacher. The next year half of the senior teachers used materials from Bruce's course. The focus of the course is on helping students to re-examine their own beliefs and the implications for their lives. Studying the beliefs of other traditions was one way of increasing respect and understanding for others as well as providing a new lens through which to examine the Christian tradition that so many of them grew up with. The Faith and Justice course will become a Social Justice course for Juniors. Various forms of discrimination, including religious prejudice and discrimination will be part of that course.
We have taught Scripture to juniors. It will move to the sophomore year. We spend a good deal of time studying the Hebrew Scripture and therefore communicate a good understanding of Biblical Judaism. We have not taught contemporary Judaism or the rich tradition of Talmudic interpretation of the Scriptures.
We teach Church History to sophomores. This course will move to freshmen year. As part of this course we treat briefly the historical development of Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and the Protestant Churches. The focus has been historical with an added attempt to respectfully present these traditions so as to increase understanding.
One successful approach I have used has been to encourage students of other traditions to explore their own tradition as part of personal reflection assignments or reasearch and presentation projects. In Church History class, I ask students to take on various aspects of the research question: How did Christianity move from being a predominately European to a world-wide Church in the Seventeenth through Twentieth Centuries? There is a broad range of topics the students can choose from. When I have a Moslem student in class, we change the question to: How did Islam spread beyond the Middle East and North Africa? The other students in the class benefit from hearing the perspective and varied research when the questions are modified. Often though, it is too much to ask that one student represent his entire religious tradition and community to his peers. I always try to be sensitive to the individual students. Some would rather do what everyone else is doing.
Another good experieince has been visiting the Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Boston for a tour and discussion with the rector, and also visiting a Jewish place of worship. We visited the Hillel at Northeastern. This field trip was part of the Church History course but only for a relatively small number of students. I've just described two of my individual efforts. I am not satisfied with this individual approach. We do not have a department-wide repertoire of ways to teach other religions to assure that all our students have a base of understanding and respect.
Several people in the Administration and in the Religion Department have mentioned that they are interested but I will serve as contact person because my schedule better allows for this.
Thank you for all your efforts. I hope this is helpful.
Created: October 16, 2000 Updated: October 16, 2000