Students from Anacapa School became scholars of world religions recently as part of a weeklong intensive study of faiths from around the world. During the week of Jan. 27, students and faculty heard presentations from speakers representing 20 religious points of view, and visited places of worship between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.

“Every place we went I kept an open mind, welcoming the different perspectives and religions” said Lara Kostruba, a sophomore at Anacapa School. “The best experiences for me during the Synthesis Unit were the ones that were hard for me to understand and agree with.”

Each year, Anacapa School takes one week between first and second semesters to explore a topic in depth during its annual Synthesis Unit, the school’s premier tool for developing critical thinking skills. For more than 30 years, Anacapa School has covered important topics each year such as World War II, global climate change and the future of space exploration.

This year’s unit, Discovering World Religions: Exploring Life’s Big Questions, provided students the opportunity to learn and understand the ways in which members of different faiths worship, celebrate life and answer some of life’s difficult questions.

“Global politics is so heavily influenced by religion and yet even many of our world leaders have little formal exposure to the world’s great faiths,” said Gordon Sichi, Anacapa’s founding headmaster. “One of our goals with this unit was to give students the chance to have a first-hand experience with practitioners from a variety of religions so that the students can gain an appreciation for the diversity that exists.”

Anacapa’s Synthesis Units expose students to some of the brightest minds and most talented experts in Santa Barbara and beyond. The caliber of the presenters and the give-and-take between speakers and students provide an educational experience that students do not typically experience until college.

“I learned a lot about (the Santa Barbara) Islamic Society from Yama Niazi. Before, I knew nothing about Islam,” freshman Dela Hatfield said. “Now I feel more educated. I found it interesting that for one month in the year, they fast and that they pray five times a day.”

After the Synthesis Unit presentations and field trips, students were divided into groups in order to work on a final Synthesis Unit “product.” The product this year is twofold: a research paper written individually and a group presentation. Students will research how different religions attempt to answer life’s big questions and write a paper based on that research. As a culmination of the unit, there will be an all-school assembly for each group to present their findings.