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

  • Arts and Letters Graduate Emmie Mediate Named Rhodes Scholar

    Emily Mediate

    Emmie Mediate, a 2015 graduate of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, has been selected to the American Rhodes Scholar Class of 2016. A native of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Mediate was one of 32 Rhodes Scholars selected from a pool of 869 candidates who had been nominated by their colleges and universities. She is Notre Dame’s 17th Rhodes Scholar and the University’s second in two years. Read More >

  • The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival Announces its 2016 Season, Audition Dates

    Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival

    The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival (NDSF) has announced the titles and audition dates for its upcoming 2016 summer season. In order to explore and celebrate Shakespeare’s final plays, NDSF has selected two works that embody the playwright’s voice at the close of his career. The 2016 season is named “Shakespeare’s Last Words” and will feature adventure, exhilaration, and redemption. Read More >

  • Marie Kissel ’83 on Study Abroad and the Liberal Arts as a Foundation for an International Career

    Marie Kissel

    Marie Kissel ’83 traces much of her success back to one key point in her Notre Dame experience: going overseas to Tokyo as an undergraduate. “I’ve got this great job, I’m in a region that’s very exciting—that would not have happened without my opportunities at Notre Dame, especially through the study abroad programs,” she said. Kissel is now vice president for government affairs for Asia at Abbott Laboratories, a global pharmaceuticals and health care products company. Read More >

  • Anthropologists’ Research Finds Emotionally Supportive Relationships Linked to Lower Testosterone


    Science and folklore alike have long suggested that high levels of testosterone can facilitate the sorts of attitudes and behavior that make for, well, a less than ideal male parent. It has long been known that among humans (and some other species as well), males who cooperate amicably with their female mates in raising and nurturing offspring often have lower testosterone levels than their more aggressive and occasionally grumpy counterparts. But two University of Notre Dame anthropologists are looking beyond the nuclear family for such effects. Read More >