Catholic Intellectual Life

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

  • Historian Wins Phi Beta Kappa Award for Book on Philology

    Phi Beta Kappa

    For his book pulling together the complex history of philology and how Western humanistic learning split into the modern humanities that we know today, Notre Dame historian James Turner has received the Phi Beta Kappa Christian Gauss Award. The honor is given for books in literary scholarship or criticism and is named for a distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher, and dean. Turner’s book, Philology: The Forgotten Origins of the Modern Humanities, looks at how learned researchers once included languages, history, and texts in a single broad field of study that came to be known as philology. Read More >

  • Liberal Studies Professor and Medieval Institute Faculty Affiliate Wins Olivia Remie Constable Prize

    Robichaud Icon

    Denis Robichaud, an assistant professor in the Program of Liberal Studies, has been awarded the 2016 Olivia Remie Constable Prize in Medieval Studies for study at the University of Oxford this summer. The prize was established last year by Robert M. Conway to honor Remie Constable, the former director of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute, and was held last summer by Kent Emery Jr., a professor in the Program of Liberal Studies, who completed work for an ongoing multi-person Duns Scotus edition. Robichaud studies 15th-century history and philosophy, and particularly Marsilio Ficino. Read More >

  • Video: William Collins Donahue on the Resonance of Small Moments in Holocaust Literature

    William Collins Donahue

    “Early literary encounters with the Holocaust tended to tell you about the whole event, but now when the Holocaust appears, generally speaking, it appears in small moments, in kind of passing glances,” said William Collins Donahue, the John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., Professor of the Humanities and chair of the Department of German and Russian Languages and Literatures at the University of Notre Dame. Donahue has researched extensively in the areas of literary realism and modernism, especially the work of Elias Canetti. Now focusing primarily on Holocaust literature, Donahue is developing an analogy for how the Holocaust appears in contemporary narratives. These small episodes, Donahue said, are similar to the Stolpersteine, a worldwide movement of small pavement stones, each commemorating a victim in the Holocaust. Read More >

  • Video: Theology Professor Khaled Anatolios on Studying the Origins of Christian Doctrines

    Khaled Anatolios Icon

    “I tend to gravitate towards doctrines that seem inexplicable, and I try to understand what motivated the early Christians to formulate these doctrines in just these ways,” said Khaled Anatolios, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Anatolios specializes in the theology of the early Church. As a Byzantine Catholic priest, he has a special interest in the doctrines of the Greek fathers as well as complementary ideas between the Eastern and Western traditions. His current research focuses on the doctrine of salvation, particularly the disconnect between classical sources and modern experience. Read More >