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Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences

Curriculum in Honors

morrissey college of arts and sciences

All Boston College undergraduates are required to do an extensive core curriculum in the humanities and the natural and social sciences. The Honors Program provides students with the opportunity to complete most of this core in a four-year sequence of courses and academic challenges that provides an integrated liberal arts education of a kind one can find in few colleges or universities. On this solid foundation a student can then build a major concentration in one or more specialized disciplines, or add one of the interdisciplinary minors available to all students in the College.

The program offers small classes (no larger than 15 students), the give and take of seminar discussion, the close personal attention of instructors who are also your academic advisers, and the companionship of bright and eager classmates on your journey through the history of ideas. It also offers you a set of challenges matched to each level of your development: in first and second years an overview of the whole Western cultural tradition, in third year a course focused on the 20th century's reinterpretation of the tradition, and in your final year the chance to bring together what you have learned in a thesis or creative project or in an integrative seminar.

Freshman and Sophomore Year

In your first two years you will take a course called The Western Cultural Tradition. This is a four-semester, six-credit course, equal to two of the five courses BC students take each semester. It is taught in seminar fashion. The course content reflects the fact that the course fulfills the BC 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. 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, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, and medieval epic and romantic poetry and drama. The second year begins with Renaissance authors, continues with the religious and political theorists of the 17th century, the principal Enlightenment figures, the English and continental Romantics, major 19th-century writers such as Hegel and Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, and ends with the seminal cultural theories of Darwin and 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 you 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. Each instructor has developed her own distinctive syllabus and approach (see syllabae).

Junior Year

In junior year you will take an advanced seminar called The 20th Century and the Tradition. This two-semester course (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 20th century has absorbed, criticized or reinterpreted the cultural tradition it inherited. You will be 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 you with a critical understanding of contemporary culture that will enable you to live thoughtfully and responsibly. If you study abroad in your junior year you will normally take this course in senior year.

Senior Year

In your final year you may choose either of two ways of finishing your work in the Program. You may write a senior thesis, which is ordinarily a six-credit enterprise, spread over two semesters. This may be a research or analytic monograph, 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 sons of alcoholic fathers, 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 adviser from their major department, but many like the challenge of working outside their own particular disciplines.

You may choose, instead, to take part in an integrative seminar where you will re-read certain key texts that you may have studied years earlier (Plato's Republic, for example) as a way of coming to understand your own experience of college education. The aim is to encourage you as a senior to rise above the specialized viewpoint of your major in order to grasp the interconnections among contemporary ways of thinking and the principles of value and behavior that have been guiding your development implicitly during your college years.

You will receive Honors Program designation in the Commencement program and on your permanent transcript if you have completed the freshman, sophomore and junior courses, and either a senior thesis and/or one of the senior integrative seminars, and have maintained a minimum 3.40 GPA.