St James Independent Schools’ religious philosophy

From Hinduism Today ( an online newspaper, January 1995:

St. James School in Central London is an excellent institution in the finest tradition of English education. The student body (30% Hindu) is from decidedly upscale families-witness the Rolls and Mercedes dropping off students each morning-able to meet the relatively stiff fees. Prominent UK Hindus such as C.V. Patel send their children here. The academic and character building standards are high; discipline is strict. Meals are healthy and all vegetarian. There are actually four schools here with separate facilities and under separate headmasters-junior and senior boys; junior and senior girls-about 200 students in all. It appeals to Hindus because of its philosophically Vedic orientation; however, it is not a “Hindu school,” and according to Senior Boys Headmaster Nicholas Debenham “not a Christian one either. It is not a religious anything. It is intended to be something new. It is a philosophic teaching that should appeal to anyone, that would strengthen their own faith.” The school’s origins are unique.

St. James’ founder, Leon MacLaren, first founded the “London School of Economics” [actually the School of Economic Science] in 1920, a philosophy school based on the mystical teachings of Gurdjieff and his disciple, P.D. Ouspensky. St. James was begun as a place to educate the children whose relatively affluent parents belonged to the London School of Economics. Consequently, it has from the beginning been an unusual blend of the British upper crust and deep spirituality. In the 1960s MacLaren met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and through him, Swami Shankarananda [Shantananda] Saraswati, the previous Shankaracharya of Jyotir Mutt in India, with whom he developed a close association. Shankarananda [Shantananda] offered much guidance for St. James. As a result, the school is permeated with Advaita Vedanta philosophy, plus teachers and most students participate in daily meditation following Maharishi’s TM method. Students study the Vedas, Upanishads, Ramayana, Mahabharata and Gita. An authentic form of Vedic mathematics is taught as well. Basic Sanskrit is a required subject and Sanskrit chants begin and end the day.

The school has an eclectic approach to religion. It is formally associated with the Church of England, and most teachers are members. The senior boys’ assembly has a 15-minute period of worship which includes the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, who art in heaven…”), responses, hymns and psalms-all drawn from the Church of England prayer book. The senior girls have the same service; the junior boys and girls do a Sanskrit prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and a scriptural reading which is most often from the Christian Bible, but also from Hindu scripture. Debenham said a few Muslim (but no Hindu) students had challenged the mandatory attendance and were told if they did not go to the assembly, they could not attend the school. He believes there is nothing in “the prayers that would upset anyone.”

On the other hand, ten years ago the Standard, a prominent UK newspaper, wrote a series of articles (later made into a book) accusing the school of being “some kind of cult.” The paper said they wear uniforms like a British school, call themselves St. James, but teach Hinduism-a backhanded compliment as far as Hindus are concerned.

So Hindu parents must weigh the benefits (first-class education and a spiritual environment) against the drawbacks (mandatory participation in Christian prayer and the predominance of Christian scripture) in deciding to send their children here.

–excerpted from

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