Catholic Intellectual Life

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At Notre Dame, an Arts and Letters liberal education is also a Catholic liberal education.

This Catholic dimension of our identity shapes our educational efforts in two key ways.

First, in contrast to the great secular research universities and private colleges, Notre Dame places the formal study of theology and philosophy at its educational core. The University requires each student to take two courses in each subject, with the conviction that the study of God is as reasonable, as intellectually demanding, as the study of human psychology or the contemporary economy. Precisely because we offer a Catholic liberal education, no religious or intellectual question—certainly not the most profound existential questions—is bracketed at Notre Dame or limited by a cramped understanding of critical reflection.

This insistence on the integration of reason and religious faith is a hallmark of Catholicism. The French Catholic philosopher Simone Weil once wrote that “if one turns aside from Christ to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

A second distinctive quality of a Catholic liberal education at Notre Dame is the opportunity—in each of our Arts and Letters departments—to cultivate some dimension of the Catholic intellectual tradition, a tradition responsible for the founding of first universities during the medieval period and an inexhaustible cultural resource from the earliest days of Christianity.

Students might study Dante in the College’s Italian studies program, the sociology of religion in the sociology department or the ethical implications of differing definitions of poverty in the economics program. They may stage a play with an explicit connection to Catholic notions of social justice, devote themselves to analyzing the cognitive development of children, or focus their attention on a rare tapestry. They may focus intensively on language acquisition, a priority for the College, precisely because Catholicism is the world’s most multicultural and multilingual intellectual tradition.

In all these endeavors, students and faculty together explore the traditional concern of liberal education in a distinctive and enriching Catholic context.

This context, finally, is not simply academic. The College, in conjunction with the University, seeks to nourish and integrate the spiritual as well as intellectual lives of students and faculty. In response to Catholic social teaching in particular, the College of Arts and Letters fosters research and study that furthers social justice and serves the common good.

Both within and beyond the classroom, students and faculty alike strive to advance social justice and to serve church, community, and the world.

Undergraduate Programs

Among the majors and minors offered by the College’s 20 academic departments, undergraduates can pursue a number of programs that focus in particular on understanding and addressing vital concerns within Church and society, including:

Graduate Programs

The College houses a number of graduate programs devoted to preparing students to serve the Church and world in meaningful ways, including:

Centers, Institutes, and Special Programs


Catholic Intellectual Tradition



Liberal Arts at Notre Dame

The Liberal Arts at Notre Dame


Arts and Letters News

  • Notre Dame and Cornell Philosophers Awarded $3.8 Million Grant to Study Hope and Optimism

    With a $3.8 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, Notre Dame philosopher Samuel Newlands and Cornell philosopher Andrew Chignell will co-direct a new research project called “Hope and Optimism: Conceptual and Empirical Investigations.” The three-year, interdisciplinary effort will explore the theoretical, empirical, and practical dimensions of hope and optimism, funding new research in the social sciences, philosophy, and analytic theology. Read More >

  • Video: English Major Thrives in Marketing Internship

    “I’ve definitely learned a lot about the publishing industry and what it’s like to put together a book,” says Meghan Thomassen, a senior English major in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. During the summer of 2013, Thomassen interned at Sheffield Marketing Partners, a boutique agency based in Downers Grove, Illinois, specializing in narrative message development and visual storytelling. Read More >

  • Anthropology Major Studies Social Mobility in Guatemala

    Last summer, Notre Dame senior Marianinna Villavicencio brought the perspective and research skills she gained as an anthropology major to her home country of Guatemala, exploring issues facing the country’s ethnic minority for her senior thesis project. With the help of a grant from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Villavicencio focused on the governmental policies geared toward indigenous populations in Guatemala and the cultural factors that prevent their upward mobility. Read More >

  • Video: Professor Tim Machan on the Nature of the English Language

    “How do you define the English language in a very complex world in which native English speakers account for less than a third of the number of people who speak English today?” says Tim Machan, professor of English in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. Read More >