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Institute for Religion, Politics & Culture

Prague Program on Religion, Politics, and Culture

The Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture, in partnership with Charles University of Prague, offers a month-long series of courses addressing religion, politics and global leadership. This distinctive program brings together students from around the world for an intensive examination of the role of religion in cultural and political life.

The courses are offered annually in July through Charles University, one of the oldest and most distinguished universities in Europe. Founded in 1347, the University is located in the historic center of the picturesque city of Prague, once the capitol of the Holy Roman Empire.

Through its partnership with Charles University, the Institute is able to reserve seats for high-achieving Washington College students to participate in the program. “One of the many aspects of this program that make it so distinctive is the way it brings together from across the globe students of a wide variety of backgrounds,” says Professor Prud’homme. “Studying religion, politics, and culture in a small class with students from every continent affords Washington College students a truly unique experience. “

In the inaugural 2010 session, Washington College undergraduates Britton Preroff, Carley Bockmeyer, Nicholas Paridon, and Meaghan Murphy spent the month of July in Prague enrolled in two courses: one on Global Leadership with a focus on the ethical foundations of exemplary leadership skills, and the other Professor Prud’homme’s course on Comparative Studies of Religion, Politics and Violence. They also engaged in service projects in the beautiful Czech countryside, where they worked with a faith-based organization that assists the mentally challenged.

Taking advantage of the program’s culturally rich location, participants studied the historic role of faith in the institutions of government in the medieval period, the rise of the religious tensions that came to mark Central Europe during the time of Jan Hus, the rise of nationalism in the 19th century, and the history of European Jewry. They also focused on the terrible events of the Holocaust (during which many European Jews were transported through the Czech city of Terezin to the death camps in Poland), the ideological roots of Nazism as a counter-religion, and the remorseless opposition of Communism to religious faith.

Students traveled to Terezin to tour its historic walled downtown area and visit the infamous prison where opponents of the Nazi-controlled Czech government were held. The Nazis made Terezin notorious as a Potemkin Village—that is, a show-city designed to convince the world that Germany’s treatment of Jews was humane. Once international organizations such as the Red Cross had concluded their inspections, almost every Jewish denizen of this Nazi model of “humanity” was slaughtered in the death camps.

In the 2010 session, Professor Prud’homme also led students to museums documenting the bitter assaults on religion conducted during the Communist era, the churches and seminaries closed by the Communists, and the prison cell of Vaclav Havel, the leader of the opposition movement to Communism in the 1980s and the first post-Communist prime minister of the Czech Republic. Students also toured the ancient Jewish Quarter of Prague, as well as the large monument to religious leader and Czech national hero Jan Hus. Side trips were also organized to Berlin and Budapest.