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The Structure of the Honors Program
Freshman and Sophomore Year
In their first two years, (each semester of their first two years for members of the Class of 2014 and following), students take a course called The Western Cultural Tradition. This has been defined as a 4-semester, 6-credit course, equal to two of the five courses BC students take each semester.
This two-year double-credit course is taught in seminar fashion. The course content reflects the fact that the course fulfills the Core requirements in literature and writing, philosophy, theology, and social science. Please Note: The University has converted from a course-based system to a credit-based system, beginning with the Class of 2014.
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. It begins with Greek literature and philosophy, Latin literature, the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, and continues through representative texts of the late Roman Empire and early Christianity, generally culminating in Dante. The second year begins with Renaissance authors, continues with the religious and political theorists of the seventeenth century, the principal Enlightenment figures, the English and continental Romantics, major nineteenth-century writers such as Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche, and ends with the seminal theories of Darwin, Marx, and Freud.
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 intellectual tradition.
In junior year, students take an advanced seminar called the Twentieth Century and the Tradition. This 2-semester course (hitherto defined as three credits each semester) draws on literature, visual art, science, philosophy, religion, political theory, historical events such as the Holocaust, and developments such as the globalization of the economy and of information technology, in order to examine how the twentieth century has absorbed, criticized, or reinterpreted the cultural tradition it inherited. Students are challenged to understand the interplay between the tradition and some of the significant critical currents in the intellectual culture of our century, for example, Marxism, psychoanalysis, comparative anthropology, structuralism and post-structuralism, feminism, and the third-world critique of Eurocentric culture. The aim of the course is to complete the work begun in freshman and sophomore years, to equip students with a critical understanding of contemporary culture that will enable them to live thoughtfully and responsibly. See below for provisions for those Honors Program students studying abroad as juniors.
In their final year, students may choose either of two ways of finishing their work in the Program. They may write a senior thesis, which is ordinarily a 6-credit enterprise, spread over two semesters. This may be an extended research or analytic paper or it may be a creative project involving performance in some medium. Students have written on topics as diverse as key words in the Russian text of Dostoevsky, the political organization of the European Community, a Massachusetts state senate campaign, the influence of alcoholic fathers on their sons, superconductivity, and the experience of open heart surgery. They have participated in original cancer research, and produced novels, dramas, operas, and electronic performance pieces. Most students do a thesis in the area of their major, under the direction of an advisor from their major department, but many like the challenge of working outside their own particular disciplines.
Students may choose, instead, to take part in integrative (advanced) seminars where they will re-read certain key texts that they may have studied years earlier (The Divine Comedy, for example) as a way of coming to understand their own experience of college education. The aim is to encourage them as seniors to rise above the specialized viewpoint of their majors in order to grasp the interconnections among contemporary ways of thinking and the principles of value and behavior that have been guiding their development implicitly during their college years.
Honors Program Completion
Students will receive Honors Program designation in the commencement program and on their academic records if they have completed the freshman, sophomore, and junior courses, either a senior thesis and/or two of the senior integrative seminars, and have maintained a minimum 3.4 GPA
Information for Study Abroad
The Honors Program encourages students to study abroad. Depending on the student's situation, the Honors Program is willing to defer part or all of the junior year Twentieth Century and Tradition sequence to senior year, and in certain cases (a full year abroad, and a senior thesis in the offing), it is willing to drop that requirement altogether. A student needs to petition, and the Honors Program will build its answer into the mentoring role they offer Honors Program students in fashioning their 4-year curriculum.