Program of Liberal Studies to mark 50th anniversary of Great Books major

by Dennis Brown

A conference culminating a yearlong 50th-anniversary celebration of the Program of Liberal Studies and Great Books major at the University of Notre Dame will take place April 4-5 (Wednesday-Thursday) in the McKenna Hall auditorium on campus. Titled “Liberal Learning and the Great Books,” the conference is free and open to the public.p. Eva Brann, author and former dean of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., will open the conference at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday with an address titled “About the Greatness of the Great Books.” Frederick Crosson, John J. Cavanaugh Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Notre Dame, will deliver a talk titled “Liberal Education: Seeing and Believing” at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago, will close the conference at 7:30 p.m. with a talk titled “Liberal Studies and the Democracy of Everyday Life.” In addition, nine distinguished graduates of the Program of Liberal Studies will make short presentations Thursday at 9 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Among the speakers will be Janice Peterson, a missionary physician practicing in Ethiopia; Kenneth Taylor, incoming chair of Stanford University’s philosophy department; Robert McNeill, executive vice president of the investment firm Stein, Roe and Farnham, Inc.; and Rev. James McDonald, C.S.C., rector of Saint George’s College in Santiago, Chile, and former associate dean of the Notre Dame Law School.p. The Program of Liberal Studies (PLS) at Notre Dame is a three-year, prescribed sequence of seminars and specialized courses anchored in the Western and Catholic traditions. It was founded as a part of the Great Books movement, which began at Columbia University in the 1920s, extended to the University of Chicago in the 1930s, and eventually was adopted in related curricular programs at St. John’s College, St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., Notre Dame and elsewhere.p. The core of the program is the Great Books seminar, a class of 12-16 students that meets twice weekly to discuss and analyze the primary classics of the Western and, to a limited extend, Eastern traditions, ranging from the ancient Homeric texts to 20th-century literature and philosophy. Students also take a required sequence of more topically organized lecture-discussion courses in literature, philosophy, the natural sciences, theology, political theory, fine arts, and intellectual history.p. The PLS conference is sponsored by the Henkels Lecture Series with assistance from the University; Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president emeritus; the Cavanaugh Chair in Humanities; and the Department of Medical Education at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center.

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