IB World Religions: a course that approaches faith and freedom

Students and teacher of the class at GBHS reflect on the opportunity to broaden their awareness of diverse religions.

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GBT.org illustration/ ASHLEY YUNG

Religious education is important in order to respect and appreciate others’ spiritual beliefs.

Religion is a topic most would avoid conversing about. Opening oneself to vulnerability and opinions from others is not the ideal direction of a typical discussion.

However, in the IB World Religions class, talking about the various religions is a way students are able to learn more about worldviews and cultures. 

“(IB World Religions) helps me be more open-minded and have a greater awareness and appreciation for other religions,” Sara Rosenblatt said. 

Since its inception in 2015, this course, taught by David Tastor, has taught students the value of understanding the world around them. It has allowed not only the students but also the instructor to open their eyes to the diversity yet similarities between every individual. 

“I think it’s really important for kids to get a sense of the world around them,” Tastor said. “Yesterday, when I had (the students on Zoom) up on the board and see our (in-person students), you could see we’re a diverse group of people with different worldviews.”    

From Tastor’s perspective, this unique course varies from the traditional lectures of an Advanced Placement (AP) class that would have minimal class discussions. 

“It’s allowing students to have that urgency to decide where their education goes,” Tastor said. “My job is to step in when I know you need something that we haven’t covered.”

In a multitude of ways, this course has impacted students in terms of either how they view their own faiths or simply appreciating concepts from other philosophies. 

“I was born a Christian, but I have never been religious, and I don’t think I will ever be,” said Maggie Delaney, a senior enrolled in the course. “And that’s completely okay.

I think what’s more important is how these religions have made me think in a different way. For example, Taoism is concerned with being flexible and balanced (emotionally and physically), and I have started to meditate (secularly) to try to keep myself in that controlled emotional state that a Taoist would.”

It says God is a sphere, whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere. I thought yeah that’s what I’ve come to understand in this class.”

— David Tastor

Likewise, Tastor believes that this course has impacted his perspective of religious diversity. 

“My vision of God was a very singular one (…),” Tastor said. “You know there’s a quote that we heard the other day in class (…). It says God is a sphere, whose center is everywhere but whose circumference is nowhere. I thought yeah that’s what I’ve come to understand in this class.  

I think all of it is stunning. I think anytime a person’s reaching for a place of solitude to obtain peace of mind whether it be through religion or finding connection in the middle of a snowstorm, it doesn’t matter.”

Additionally, Tastor understands that students enrolling in his class will concurrently be involved in other weighted courses. In order to alleviate some stress, he has implemented the option of students choosing a traditional or non-traditional grading system. 

In the non-traditional grading system, students examine their work over each quarter and write an honest paper analyzing their work ethic, previous assignments, how they have improved, etc. 

While in the non-traditional grading system it is still possible to not obtain the grade one might want, students agree that this unique class is worth taking. 

“I would definitely recommend this course to a future student because I think it is so valuable to expand your worldview,” senior Rachel Low said, “and the topics are relevant and interesting for the modern day. It is a unique class since religions and global issues are not as widely known, but I think that makes the material all the more engaging!”

Whether one associates themself with faith or not, IB World Religions is a course that not only deserves recognition for its tremendous impact on students in examining the world, but it is also a course worth engaging in for years to come.

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