Marymount of Santa Barbara’s religious studies program, Kaleidoscope, is causing a stir. Still often mistaken as a school that is exclusively Catholic, Marymount’s world religions curriculum, called Kaleidoscope, is getting noticed by both individuals and groups who reside far outside of Santa Barbara County.

The fact that the school was chosen as the site of a U.S. State Department program called “The Study of the U.S. Institute,” which hosted 18 religious scholars from 18 countries in 2009, is one indicator. The school was chosen as the site of the gathering because of its innovative approach to religion.

Marymount’s world religions program came about after a series of focus groups with Marymount parents, board members and faculty. The curriculum was a collaborative project spearheaded by Marymount’s head, Deborah David, and UCSB’s Department of Religious Education. At the same time that Marymount invested in developing the Kaleidoscope program, it strengthened, revitalized and modernized its Catholic Studies Program.

Marymount’s goal was to continue its long history of developing religious literacy and the resources of ethics, values and respect for all in its students.

“In the development of the Kaleidoscope program, we were meeting the changing needs of the Marymount community and developing a sophisticated, ambitious religious studies program that did justice to the complexities of its subject matter,” David said. “We had no idea that the program would receive international attention, though we are thrilled that it is.”

Kaleidoscope’s curriculum takes students through 10 world religions while simultaneously exposing them to the traditions, rituals, teachings and religious writings of each. Students learn about the cultural, economic, geographic, political and social structures that exist alongside the religions. The program helps students learn not to judge, categorize or “exoticize” religions other than their own, but to “readjust their headings” and to remain open to new ideas, and different ways of thinking and living.

Lexie Brockway Potamkin, author of What is Spirit? What is Love? What is Peace?, a former human rights activist and former Miss World, spoke to Marymount students this winter.

Her books ask the question in the title of each book. She has interviewed a broad range of people — Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, Swami Satchidananda and Donald Trump, to list a few — for answers to these questions.

She encouraged the assembled Marymount students “to hold onto their core, but to love all the other traditions at the same time.”

She emphasized that each human being has his or her unique answer to life’s profound questions. One fourth-grader asked, “What is peace to you?” It was clear from the students’ raised hands that Potamkin piqued the interest of the students. The topics she raised were ones that the students felt comfortable discussing and considering.

Marymount has been selected for another U.S. Institute meeting on religious pluralism this summer.

— Molly Seguel is the director of admissions for Marymount of Santa Barbara.