Great Books Course

The basic framework of the course consists of eight faculty, each spending two weeks guiding student discussion of, and writing about, an important work in the liberal arts tradition. Faculty are asked to choose a work outside of their area of expertise. The latter stipulation draws on the St. John’s model and attempts to reduce significantly the inevitable authority with which students invest the professor in a traditional course, thereby hoping that the discussions will be more student-led and student-centered. Students are required to grapple with the text sometimes through some form of writing prompt, sometimes other prompts for each session. Finally, there are two weeks—at mid-term and during finals week—set aside for oral examinations with two Great Books course faculty members. These exams probe the students’ ability to speak about the works and make connections across the works read. Grading is credit/no credit.  

Students are either invited to participate based on the recommendation of faculty members or apply for admission to the course by describing their interest in the Great Books course and supplying the name of a faculty member who can confirm the suitability of the student to participate in, and benefit from, a course that is less restrictive and prescribed than traditional courses. Since the course theoretically provides a kind of continuation to First Engagements, FYS and FYRS efforts, while asking students to grapple with more remote and thus arguably more difficult texts, the applications of current first- and second-year students are preferred. This satisfies one of the main objectives of the course, i.e., as a kind of a bridge, developing and exercising the “skills” of liberal education during the middle years of the Transylvania experience. Certain groups of students are particularly targeted: members of the first-year honorary and enthusiastic participants in FYS or FYRS efforts, among others. Rising seniors will be allowed to participate if space is available. 

Current faculty who have participated in the Great Books course:

Carole Barnsley, Alan Bartley, Martha Billips, Mike Cairo, Seamus Carey, Simonetta Cochis, Ellen Cox, Eva Csuhai, Veronica Dean-Thacker, Don Dugi, Gary Deaton, Melissa Fortner, Becky Fox, Angela Hurley,Mark Jackson, Kim Jenkins,Stephen JohnsonPaul Jones, David KaufmanIva Katzarska-Miller, Jennifer McCloud, Jeremy Paden, Bob Rosenberg, Frank Russell,Ken Slepyan, Belinda Sly, Tim Soulis, Ryan Stuffelbeam, John Svarlien, Scott Whiddon, Meg Upchurch

Course Description:

Significant works are read and discussed in a leisurely, but reflective atmosphere. The aim is not to “get somewhere” or to “make a point,” but truly to inquire together and mutually explore how a text works and what it says about the world and humans living in it. 

Books discussed in past iterations of IDS 2014: Further Engagements/Conversations about Great Books – the Liberal Arts in Action:

Fall 2018

  • Lucan, Civil War
  • William Shakespeare, Macbeth
  • Isabel Allende, House of the Spirits
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  • James Baldwin, Go Tell it on the Mountain
  • Abraham Verghese, My Own Country – A Doctor’s Story

Fall 2017

  • Plato, Phaedrus
  • Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • Shakespeare, King Lear
  • George Eliot, Middlemarch
  • Edwin Abbott, Flatland
  • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil
  • Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents

Fall 2016

  • Plato, Gorgias
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
  • Karel Capek, R.U.R.
  • Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt
  • Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

Spring 2013

  • Aristophanes, Lysistrata and Other Plays
  • Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (excerpts)
  • Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  • James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man and Dubliners
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr., ed. Gospel Parallels
  • Richard Sheridan, The Rivals
  • Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Fall 2012

  • Euripides, Four Plays: Medea, Hippolytus, Heracles, Bacchae
  • The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, translated by Benedicta Ward
  • Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian
  • Molière, Don Juan, translated by Richard Wilbur
  • Mozart, Don Giovanni (libretto and music supplied)
  • Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction
  • Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (excerpts)

Spring 2012

  • Zhuangzi, Basic Writings
  • The Bhagavad Gita
  • Dante, The Inferno
  • Shakespeare, King Lear
  • Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
  • Sylvia Plath, Ariel

Fall 2011

  • Homer, The Odyssey
  • Letters of Abelard and Heloise
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  • T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland
  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition

Fall 2010

  • Augustine, Confessions
  • Johann Sebastian Bach, St. Matthew’s Passion
  • David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
  • Thomas Malthus, Essay on the Principle of Population
  • W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
  • Flannery O’Connor, Selected Stories

Fall 2009

  • Publius Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
  • Dante Alegheri, The Inferno
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
  • Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past
  • Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis; Totem and Taboo