In their first two years, students take a 4-semester sequence of 6-credit courses titled The Western Cultural Tradition taught in the seminar fashion. The course content reflects the fact that the course fulfills the Core requirements in literature and writing, philosophy, theology, and social science.
Though individual instructors vary their reading lists, there is broad agreement about the central texts in the first two years of the Honors Program. The first year deals with the classical tradition beginning with Greek and Latin literature including the Homeric epics, the Greek tragedies and the philosophy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. First year continues with the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the literary and philosophical texts of the late Roman Empire early Christianity such as Virgil’s Aeneid and St. Augustine’s Confessions, and medieval works such the Summas of St. Thomas and generally culminates with Dante’s The Divine Comedy. The second year begins with Renaissance authors such as Montaigne and Shakespeare, continues with the religious, political and philosophical writers of the seventeenth century and of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, the English and continental Romantics, the major nineteenth-century writers including Kierkegaard, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud and ends with nineteenth and early twentieth century novelists such as Dostoevsky, Woolf, and Mann.
This course is not a survey of the history of ideas taught out of anthologies. It is rigorously text-centered and the function of class discussion and the frequent writing assignments is to teach students to understand and dissect arguments and presuppositions and to relate disparate evidence into coherent hypotheses about the works that have been central in the development of our contemporary cultural tradition.
In the junior year, students take a 2-semester, 3-credit seminar titled the Twentieth Century and the Tradition, drawing on literature, visual art, science, philosophy, religion, political theory, historical events such as the Holocaust, globalization, and the development of digital information technology, in order to examine how the twentieth and early twenty first centuries have absorbed, criticized, or reinterpreted the Western cultural tradition. Thus by considering the interplay between the Western cultural tradition and the significant critical currents of our century such as Marxism, psychoanalysis, comparative anthropology, structuralism and post-structuralism, feminism, and the third-world critique of Eurocentric culture, the junior year course aims to equip Honors students to live thoughtfully and responsibly in contemporary culture. (See below for provisions for those Honors Program students studying abroad as juniors.)
In their final year, students may choose either of two ways to finish the Honors curriculum. They may either write a senior thesis—normally a 6-credit enterprise, spread over two semesters—or take two, advanced seminars.
A thesis may be an extended research or analytic paper written either in the student’s major discipline or in the Honors Program; it may also be a creative project involving performance in an artistic medium. Honors students have written on topics as diverse as personalism in the summas of St. Thomas, grace and freedom in Dostoevsky, the role of Buddhism in the works of Jack Kerouac, the political organization of the European Community, the influence of alcoholic fathers on their sons, superconductivity, and original cancer research; they have produced novels, dramas, operas, and electronic performance pieces.
In the integrative, advanced seminars students re-consider texts they may have studied years earlier such as Dante’s The Divine Comedy or the novels of Dostoevsky with the aim rising above the specialization of their particular majors, to critically comprehend the relationship between contemporary ways of thinking and the cultural values of the tradition.
Students will receive Honors Program designation in the commencement program and on their academic records if they complete the freshman, sophomore, and junior courses, a senior thesis and/or two of the advanced seminars, and have maintained a minimum 3.4 GPA.
The Honors Program encourages students to study abroad. Depending on the student's situation, the Honors Program will defer part or all of the junior year Twentieth Century and Tradition sequence to senior year. In certain cases (a full year abroad, and a senior thesis in the offing) the Honors Program will drop the requirement altogether.