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

  • New Sociology Professor Focuses on Social Side of Child Mental Health Issues

    Sociologist Sarah Mustillo ’96 combines real-world experience and statistical expertise to explore the social origins of child mental health issues. This fall she returned to Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters to continue her innovative research as a professor in the Department of Sociology. Read More >

  • ILS Launches Distinguished Visiting Professorship

    Anthropologist Arlene Dávila will visit the University of Notre Dame next week as the inaugural recipient of the Institute for Latino Studies’ Virgilio Elizondo Distinguished Visiting Professorship. A professor of anthropology and American studies at New York University, Dávila, “is one of the country’s leading Latino studies cultural anthropologists,” says ILS Director José Limón, the Notre Dame Professor of American Literature and Julian Samora Professor of Latino Studies. Read More >

  • In Memoriam: Remie Constable, Director of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute

    Olivia Remie Constable, Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, died of cancer at home Wednesday (April 16). A member of the Notre Dame faculty since 1995, Constable had directed the Medieval Institute since 2009. Read More >

  • Notre Dame Student Researches Medical Partnerships in Rwanda

    Rwanda is one of the few countries to have met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—which include reducing childhood mortality, improving maternal health, and combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. In her research, Notre Dame senior Catherine Cichon explores how Rwanda’s success may be repeated in other developing countries. Read More >