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.
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:
- a minor in Catholic Social Tradition
- a minor in Education, Schooling, and Society
- a minor in Liturgical Music Ministry
- a minor in Philosophy in the Catholic Tradition
- a minor in Poverty Studies
- a supplementary major or minor in Peace Studies
- the Hesburgh Program in Public Service
The College houses a number of graduate programs devoted to preparing students to serve the Church and world in meaningful ways, including:
- a master’s in Divinity
- a master’s in Early Christian Studies
- a master’s in Sacred Music
- a master’s or doctorate in Peace Studies
- a master’s or doctorate in Theology
- a doctorate with a track in science and theology
- the Alliance for Catholic Education
- the ECHO: Faith Formation Leadership Program
Centers, Institutes, and Special Programs
- Center for Ethics and Culture
- Center for Philosophy of Religion
- Center for the Study of Religion and Society
- Common Good Initiative Program
- Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism
- Devers Program in Dante and Italian Studies
- Medieval Institute
- Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values
- Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies
Arts and Letters News
Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture director and professor of law Carter Snead will deliver the inaugural University of Florence “Law and Justice Lecture” on May 30 in Florence, Italy. His lecture, “Three Regulatory Models for Stem Cell Research,” will analyze and contrast the U.S. government’s federal funding policies under Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama as a means of exploring the complexities of American governance of science, medicine, and biotechnology in the name of ethical goods. Read More >
Michelle Kim, a philosophy major, has won a 2016 Naughton Fellowship, which allows students with a background in, or aptitude for, STEM fields to experience international research and educational opportunities through a funded exchange program involving the University of Notre Dame and some of Ireland’s leading research universities. With the award, Kim will complete undergraduate research at Trinity College Dublin. Read More >
Anne Hamilton ’04 didn’t always know she wanted to be a filmmaker. She majored in philosophy in the College of Arts and Letters, but plans change, and now Hamilton is one of Hollywood’s up-and-coming directors. She recently signed with William Morris Endeavor after the successful world premiere of American Fable, a feature film she wrote, directed, and co-produced. The film made its debut at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March and received a string of excellent reviews. Read More >
Evolutionary science stresses the contributions biology makes to our behavior. Some anthropologists try to understand how societies and histories construct our identities, and others ask about how genes and the environment do the same thing. Which is the better approach? Both are needed, Notre Dame biological anthropologist Agustín Fuentes argues in a forthcoming paper in the journal Current Anthropology. Read More >