Summer Symposium



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, our Symposium will be offered entirely online through Zoom.  Participants will be able to register for individual courses, not just the entire Symposium, and the cost will be significantly reduced. Although we will miss having everyone here on campus, we are excited to offer the Symposium to many people who ordinarily would not be able to join the conversation. Courses will run in three 90 minute blocks from 11 am EDT to 5:30 EDT (with a 1.5 hr break for lunch), M – F. We will also have a social event for all participants on Sunday, June 7th, that will permit small group discussions, and we will open several virtual meeting rooms during the Symposium where participants can gather informally for conversations.

The sessions will feature 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.

Registration details are at the bottom of this page.

Please note: Each course is limited to 34 total participants, split into two sections. Once a course section is full, we will establish a waiting list.

Registration is now closed. All registrants will receive a detailed email shortly after May 28.



Learning to be Free

Eric Bugyis

(2 Sections of 2 sessions each)

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

(2 Sections of four sessions each)

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

(2 Sections of 2 sessions each)

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

(2 Sections of 2 sessions each)

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

(2 Sections of 2 sessions each)

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”




Du Bois on the Promise and Limits of Liberal Education

Thomas Stapleford

(2 Sections of 2 sessions each)

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.



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Cost: $ 60 - $120 per section 

You may register for as many or as few courses as you wish. However, please note that if you wish to take all the courses, you must register for the same section number in each course. (I.e., you must take the first section of every course or the second section of every course.) Otherwise, you will have schedule conflicts. If you only take some of the courses, you may be able to mix different section numbers; just look carefully at the schedule!

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All payments are due at the time of registration. If you wish to be considered for a Spangler scholarship, please register for at least two courses (including payment) and then contact the PLS office @ We will consider requests for additional, unpaid registrations on a first-come, first-served basis, depending on space and funding. 


  • Registration for the 2020 Alumni Summer Symposium is now closed. All registrants will receive a detailed email shortly after May 28.
  • 2020 schedule