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
Pope Francis’ July 5-13 journey to South America will take him through countries and among people who already knew him well before he became the leader of all the world’s Catholics, according to Peter J. Casarella, an associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame who just returned from a year sabbatical in Chile at the Pontifical Catholic University of Santiago. Read More >
Two recent Notre Dame graduates are tackling global health issues with support from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. French and Francophone studies major Claire Donovan will work with UNICEF in Togo to examine women’s adherence to micronutrient supplement programs. Christina Gutierrez, who majored in Romance languages and literatures and political science, will pursue a master’s degree at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy and conduct research on and pilot a food co-op concept there. Read More >
When Jack Blakey was studying theatre at Notre Dame in the 1980s, he never dreamed he would one day be hearing legal disputes on the federal bench. But his liberal arts courses were preparing him for it nonetheless. Blakey was formally installed this spring as a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, following his nomination by President Barack Obama and confirmation by the U.S. Senate last year. Read More >
Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities has received a $435,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health for a two-year study of Stay the Course, a program designed to keep low-income community college students on the path to academic success. Participants are paired with a case manager who offers guidance and support on how to stay on track to graduate or transfer to a four-year college. They are also directed to affordable child care or other social services that will aid them in their pursuit of an education. Read More >