Summer Symposium

Each summer, the Program of Liberal Studies and General Program alumni gather on Notre Dame's campus, eager to engage their teachers, the authors of the Great Books.

The Program of Liberal Studies coordinates the events which are centered on seminars that explore the week's theme.

Announcing PLS in London, 2020


Notre Dame London Global Gateway on Trafalgar Square, June 28-July 3, 2020.

To ensure good discussions, space for the London Symposium is limited to twenty participants. Please contact the PLS office ( with any questions.




June 7-12, 2020

Education for Humanity: the Bible, and the Liberal Arts -- their Tradition and Today

Once again, the Program of Liberal Studies will offer a week of seminars for alumni/ae of the Program, their relatives and friends, and anyone else eager to read and discuss important texts and ideas as part of a welcoming and lively intellectual community. This year the sessions will focus on a multi-faceted reflection on the nature and tradition of our shared enterprise, the liberal arts. The sessions will be taught by current or emeritus/ae faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies and, for the reflection on reading the Bible in this context, by an alumnus of the Program who is a member of the CSC. Please consider joining us for what promises to be once again an exhilarating week.

Below find a list of the seminars, followed by more detailed descriptions and information.




Learning to be Free

Eric Bugyis

(2 Sessions)

Course Description:

Alongside the joys that come to those majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies, there is also the tedium of having to endure some variation of the following question tossed off from friends and family: "What are you going to do with that?" However well-meaning such interrogation may be, it trades in the pernicious premise that a university education ought to be about the acquisition of practical skills that can be readily sold on the labor market. Thus, in its more honest form, the question should really be phrased: "What kind of slave are you going to be?" 

In his classic essay, "Leisure: The Basis of Culture," Josef Pieper defends the "artes liberales" as training for freedom in contrast to the "artes serviles" that threaten to dim so many bright minds. Though first published over 60 years ago, Pieper's essay has perhaps become even more urgent. Some economists are predicting that with the rise of artificial intelligence, 50% of current jobs, including the kinds of professional work for which most college students are preparing, will be either eliminated or severely deskilled in the next 20 years. This means that even if all one wanted from the university was to be better able to sell oneself to the highest bidder upon graduation, there just may not be enough buyers left.

In a world of massive under and unemployment, it will be even more important that persons are able to not only structure and enjoy their own free time but also to do so together. In the first session of this seminar, we will read Pieper's essay, and in the second session, we will look at one of his sources, the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, whose "Celebration of Sunday" Pieper endorses for recognizing the "social significance" of Sabbath rest. By reading these two essays, we might come to see that unemployment could be the best thing to ever happen to work, and that by learning to do nothing, the PLS graduate might be the most prepared for the future.

Background: A lot has been written about automation and its effects on the future of employment. I would suggest reading Derek Thompson's 2015 essay for The Atlantic, "A World Without Work."

Session 1: Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009).

Session 2: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, "The Celebration of Sunday"




Reading as a Spiritual Discipline: Theology of Biblical Interpretation and the Great Books

Gabriel Griggs, csc

(four sessions)

Course Description:

How are we to read? This is a question that was asked, and answered, by Mortimer Adler in his classic work, How to Read a Book. It is also a question that has been asked of Scripture. In this course, we will examine the foundational principles of Biblical Interpretation and compare them to those principles laid out by Adler. Among other things, we may find in our analysis that to read is to encounter another - along with an entire community and tradition. We might also find that reading itself is a spiritual discipline by which we can encounter God, others, world, and self.

Readings for the course: 

Primary Texts: Dei Verbum (pdf, contained in this compilation of Vatican II documents) , How to Read a Book (Amazon link here), The Gospel of John (selections - any translation), Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (pdf, Amazon link here).




 The Liberal Arts as a Way of Life

Jennifer Newsome Martin

(two sessions)

Course Description:

This two-day course invites reflection on what constitutes a genuinely humane education and an examined way of life through a study of essays from Pierre Hadot’s classic text Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault.

Required Text:

Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, trans.

Michael Chase (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1995).

Monday, June 8, 2020

P. Hadot, pp. 49-178.

    • “Forms of Life and Forms of Discourse in Ancient Philosophy”
    • “Philosophy, Exegesis, and Creative Mistakes”
    • “Spiritual Exercises”
    • “Ancient Spiritual Exercises and ‘Christian Philosophy’
    • “The Figure of Socrates”

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

P. Hadot, pp. 179-276.

    • “Marcus Aurelius”
    • “Reflections on the Idea of the ‘Cultivation of the Self’”
    • “‘Only the Present is our Happiness’: The Value of the Present Instant in Goethe and in Ancient Philosophy”
    • “The View from Above”
    • “The Sage and the World”
    • “Philosophy as a Way of Life”



Liberal Education in Our Time:

What Are the Possibilities?

Walter Nicgorski

(two sessions)

Course Description:

In the last half of the 20th century, as powerful American universities such as Notre Dame expanded their research programs and often the size of their institutions, various writings appeared aimed at protecting and nourishing an ideal of liberal education in which the Great Books play a role.  In two seminar meetings we will discuss four essays of this kind.  Two of them are brief essays by Leo Strauss; the other two are by Leon Kass and Otto Bird, the chief founder of the Program of Liberal Studies.  Their titles and how the essays might be obtained are noted below.  In our second meeting, I will elicit your help in shaping an essay I wrote a few years ago entitled “On the Ways and Means of Liberal Education.”  We necessarily must clarify each author’s understanding of liberal education and their respective views of how liberal education is related to the Great Books.  Thus all four of the essays should be read before our first meeting.

Leo Strauss, “What is Liberal Education,” “Liberal Education and Responsibility” –these are the two lead essays in Strauss’s collection titled Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (1968/1995, University of Chicago Press).

Leon Kass, “The Aims of Liberal Education,” (perhaps on the web, I will supply digital copy to those who register for summer symposium).

Otto Bird, “Great Books and Liberal Arts,” (I will supply digital copy to registrants).

Walter Nicgorski, “The Ways and Means of Liberal Education,” (digital copy will be supplied).




The Great Books Movement and Liberal Education

Phillip Sloan

(two sessions)

Course Description:

These two classes will focus on some key texts in the history of the Program of Liberal Studies in its “remote” origins in the Great Books movement, which emerged first at Columbia University in the 1920s with the establishment of the General Honors Curriculum by John Erskine at Columbia University. From Columbia it then migrated to the University of Chicago to form the College Program under the leadership of Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer Adler. From this source it moved through the efforts of President Fr. John Cavanaugh, C.S.C. to the University of Notre Dame under the leadership of our first director, Otto Bird. In this inquiry, we will see some of the similarities and differences between the classical ideals of Liberal Education as conceived by the Roman Humanists and their Renaissance heirs, and then the way the “Great Books” movement departed from these foundations, particularly with the creation of the “Great Books Seminar” model developed by John Erskine. The Seminar inserted into the study of the classics of tradition, and education in the traditional seven liberal arts, a democratic discussion of central primary texts that de-emphasized the role of disciplinary expertise and historical knowledge in order to engage the student directly in confrontation with great works of tradition. Since this founding, the Erskine seminar model has successfully moved into such formats as elementary and secondary schools, adult study groups, the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, and the Westville Prison Program (Moreau College) sponsored jointly by Holy Cross College and the University of Notre Dame. In our inquiry we will explore, through short primary and secondary sources, some of this history. Readings: Session I: Classical Foundations: Otto Bird, Cultures in Conflict; chp. 1: “The Literary-Humanist Ideal;” Selections from Seneca; Augustine; Ignatius of Loyola. Session II: Selection from John Erskine, “On Reading Great Books”; Otto Bird, “Summer Session Report on the General Program, 1953”; Kalkavage, “Winged Words”




Gregory of Nyssa and the metaphysics of body: Did Aristotle’s Categories inform his argument?

Andrew Radde-Gallwitz

(one session)

Course Description:

Readers of Augustine’s Confessions might recall his somewhat disparaging reference to Aristotle’s Categories, a text that he read in the course of his rhetorical education. This text, in which Aristotle lays out what he takes to be the ten highest genera of reality, was widely read by students of the liberal arts in late antiquity. Despite its difficulty, it was treated by many readers, including the Neoplatonist Porphyry, as a text for beginning philosophers. It inspired numerous late ancient commentaries in both Greek and Latin, including one from Porphyry, and it set the stage for many of the key metaphysical debates in the universities of the medieval West. The work’s influence outside of those commentaries and the later scholastic tradition has not been explored very thoroughly. This lecture will examine just one case of what appears to be a late ancient, liberally educated author drawing on resources he had learned from the Categories, or more precisely, from some commentary thereon—likely Porphyry’s. I will look at Gregory of Nyssa’s definition of matter or body in three of his works. While many scholars have tackled the relevant passages, the Aristotelian (and Porphyrian) provenance of Gregory’s rather idiosyncratic account of the nature of body has been overlooked. While using Aristotle and his commentators, Gregory apparently draws the quite un-Aristotelian conclusion that there is no material substrate; instead, body is merely a bundle of inherently intelligible qualities. His goal in making this point is to articulate the doctrine of creation; he assumes that creation must be somehow like its creator. To make his point, Gregory creatively deploys the idea of “substantial qualities,” which he likely found in Porphyry’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories. This paper will therefore offer a case study in the creative potential of the philosophical part of liberal learning for Christian thought.

A handout of relevant passages will be made available during the lecture. Seminar participants interested in reading some of the relevant texts in advance can consult the following:

1. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and the Resurrection, trans. by Catherine Roth (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminar Press, 2002). ISBN: 0881411205. (The relevant passage is short: pp. 97–99).

2. Aristotle: Categories and De Interpretatione, trans. by J. L. Ackrill (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).  ISBN: 0198720866.

3. Paul Studtmann, “Aristotle’s Categories,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), <>. [Accessed December 5, 2019].

4. Andrew Radde-Gallwitz, “Eunomius of Cyzicus and Gregory of Nyssa,” in Mark J. Edwards, ed. The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Philosophy (Routledge, forthcoming) [DRAFT]. This short piece offers a basic overview of Gregory’s general use of and attitude towards philosophy; the pages on Eunomius could be skipped.




Du Bois on the Promise and Limits of Liberal Education

Thomas Stapleford

(two sessions)

Course Description:

Born in Massachusetts in 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois was raised primarily by his mother, his father having left home within the first year after his birth. Du Bois was the first African-American graduate of his high school (graduating with high honors), and though Harvard was his dream, friends and family encouraged him to attend Fisk University in Nashville, one of the earliest and greatest black colleges. Du Bois graduated from Fisk in 1888, having earned a scholarship to attend Harvard as a junior undergraduate, completing an M.A. in history in 1891. He then studied in Berlin for several years before completing his dissertation at Harvard in 1895, becoming the first African-American to receive a PhD from that institution.

Du Bois’ subsequent career was a mixture of academic life (especially at the historically black Atlanta University), research in history and sociology, public writing and speaking, and political activism. Throughout his life, Du Bois wrote about the centrality of education, and especially liberal education, to what he hoped would be the rise of African-Americans from the destitution and destruction of caused by slavery, the failures of southern Reconstruction, and ongoing racism. Yet as a historian and sociologist, Du Bois was also keenly aware of the limits of liberal education and the challenges facing black Americans who pursued it.

Most of our selections will come from The Souls of Black Folk, a collection of essays published in 1903 that became an extraordinary success, running through one-hundred-nineteen editions and marking Du Bois as one of the most influential black intellectuals of the twentieth century. But we will also read a lecture from 1948 in which Du Bois returned to some of his earlier themes, now in the light of four decades of further experience.


I recommend the Norton edition of The Souls of Black Folk (ISBN 978-0-393-97393-8), which is free on Kindle. The original book is out of copyright, so you can find it in various places on the internet as well (See one list here), and Dover sells a $5 version. We will be reading select chapters, so almost any edition will work reasonably well (although Du Bois did revise it over time). 



Chapter I. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”

Chapter II. “Of the Dawn of Freedom”

Chapter III. “Of Booker T. Washington and Others”

Chapter IV. “Of the Meaning of Progress”

Chapter V. “Of the Wings of Atalanta”



Chapter VI. “Of the Training of Black Men”

Chapter XI. “Of the Passing of the First-Born”

Chapter XII. “Of the Coming of John”

Chapter XIV. “The Sorrow Songs”

Lecture: “The Talented Tenth Memorial Address” (1948), available at the Sigma Pi Phi website, here.




Newman’s Ideas of a University

M. Katherine Tillman

(three Sessions)

Course Description:

This Symposium class and my 51-page Introduction to John Henry Newman’s Rise and Progress of Universities will emphasize the internal relation and unity of Newman’s many educational writings of the 1850s: books, essays, articles, sermons, diaries, letters.  At the center of the class will be the nine Discourses in Newman’s classic, The Idea of a University, which may be found at under Works: Catholic Period.  (See also: my 2-page sketch-outline of the The Idea of a University.

For discussion, first session: 


“Introduction” to Rise and Progress of Universities" (may skip Benedictine essays)

on the unity and content of Newman’s educational writings

Introduction and Notes by Mary Katherine Tillman

in The Works of Cardinal Newman:  Birmingham Oratory Millennium Edition

Volume III (UND Press 2001).  51 pages, accessible to all participants as a pdf

Read also:  from The Idea of a University:  Author’s Preface and Discourses 1-4: on the uniqueness of university education, and on the indispensable place of Theology in a liberal arts curriculum

For discussion, second session: 

Discourses 5-7 in Idea of a University: on the idea of liberal education in itself, the value of knowledge as its own end with no practical, vocational or religious aim

 For discussion, third session: 

Discourses 8-9 in Idea of a University: liberal knowledge in relation to religion and to the Church


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cost: $ 800 individual, $1100 individual + spouse. Online registration will open the second week of January.

Morris Inn: $139 per night. You must contact the hotel directly and mention the PLS Summer Symposium Block (800-280-7256 or 574-631-2000). Participants will make their own arrangements for travel and lodging and be responsible for the associated cost.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The PLS Office now has funding available for a number of small grants to cover expenses related to our annual Summer Symposium, thanks to the newly established Richard Spangler fund. Richard Spangler (Class of 1977) was an enthusiastic and dedicated participant in these seminars, and family and friends have established this fund to honor him.

If you are interested in receiving such a stipend, please contact the office at