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

 "The happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have been in it. I will venture to say, there is more learning and science within the circumference of ten miles from where we now sit, than in all the rest of the world." -Samuel Johnson

We are delighted to announce our first-ever PLS Summer Symposium in London, to be held at the Notre Dame London Global Gateway on Trafalgar Square, June 28-July 3, 2020.


London will be not just the backdrop, but one of the texts we are reading in this symposium. Each day we will combine readings with excursions, with afternoon seminars to discuss the places and artworks that informed the great thinkers and artists we will study. Topics will range from classical Greece to evolutionary biology, and each day will be led by a PLS professor with special expertise and interest in the area. Texts will be available for download or purchase by February 1.

Planned excursions and works (subject to revision) include

-- with classicist Gretchen Reydams-Schils, a private morning tour of the ancient Greek wing of the British Museum, to study the Elgin Marbles (masterpieces from the Athenian Parthenon), as well as the issues raised by their removal to England

-- with theologian Katie Bugyis, a visit to the remains of Barking Abbey, with readings from Bede’s history of England and works composed by the nuns of Barking, to study the role of monasticism, and particularly female monasticism, in medieval society

-- with political scientist Emma Planinc, a Tudor Tour of the National Portrait Gallery to meet the cast of characters in Kate Hennig’s new play Mother’s Daughter, which takes up the religious, familial, and political issues faced by Mary Tudor after the death of her father, Henry VIII. We will also read John Knox’s pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous regiment of Women (1558). In the evening, we will make a special trip to the Tower of London, where the play’s imprisonments and executions take place, for a private tour and the ancient Ceremony of the Keys when the doors are locked for the evening

-- with literary scholar Steve Fallon, attendance at a Shakespeare play, at Shakespeare’s Globe or another London theatre, to be determined when the 2020 summer seasons are announced

--with historian of science Phil Sloan, a visit to Darwin’s London, a place as important as the Galapagos to the development of his thinking: we will discuss selections from Darwin’s notebooks and correspondence, visit a few of his haunts, and go to the Natural History Museum (with a behind-the-scenes tour in which we will see some of Darwin’s own biological specimen collection)

--with medievalist Julia Marvin, a visit to Westminster Abbey, not only a fascinating place in its own right, but one with intriguing connections to all of the week’s topics 

Events will begin with an evening reception on Sunday, June 28, and conclude in the evening on Friday, July 3. Participants will make their own arrangements for travel and lodging and be responsible for the cost of meals on their own.

Early registration will be open to PLS alumni for a discounted rate ($1,350) prior to January 5. After January 5, registration will be $1,500. The registration fee covers use of the London Gateway’s facilities for seminar discussions, all entrance fees and tickets for excursions, an opening reception, and one dinner for the group. The fees include a non-refundable deposit of $200 that will only be returned if the Symposium is canceled. For participant cancellations after March 1, fees are only refundable at the discretion of the Program of Liberal Studies and will generally be restricted to medical or family emergencies.  

To register, follow this link to the Conference Center’s “Calendar of Events”. Scroll down to the “PLS Summer Symposium in London” (listed under July 2020 events) and click on the link.

To ensure good discussions, space for the London Symposium is limited to twenty participants. Note, however, that the Symposium also requires a minimum of ten participants in order to be financially viable. We will let all registered participants know once we have hit that threshold; until then, please only book refundable options for travel and lodging. Please contact the PLS office ( with any questions.

We look forward to our conversation with you there. As Dr. Johnson also said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”





June 2-7, 2019

Power: Exploring the Meaning and Uses of this Ubiquitous Concept


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 conceptions of “power” across many fields of inquiry. All sessions will be taught by current or emeritus/a faculty of the Program of Liberal Studies. 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.




Power over Life: The Problem of Biotechnology

Phillip Sloan

(4 sessions)


Course Description:

The aim of this series of seminars is to help us gain some perspective on the consequences of the “mastery” of numerous dimensions of life attained by contemporary bioscience as the outcome of a long historical effort to “disenchant” the living world through rational control (cf. Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, ch. 1). These developments in the last two centuries have given us marvelous medical breakthroughs. They also raise many of the critical ethical issues of the present surrounding high-technology eugenics, biotechnological enhancement, organ transplantation, control and manipulation of human reproduction, and genetic “engineering” that can have an impact on “lives to come.” The seminar will be conducted with some lecture as well as seminar discussion of primary texts. An electronic Reader of sources will be supplied. As a “background” book that is often being referred to in the more recent readings, I would like to recommend as an optional read, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. As an assigned book we will use chapters in Francis Fukuyama’s, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (New York: Farrar Straus, 2003), ISBN 0-312-42171-0. A Reader of short supplementary materials as described will be sent electronically.


Session I: The “Disenchantment” of the Living: Readings: Aristotle, De anima, Book 2 (selection); Descartes, Discourse on Method, Part V and selection from Treatise on Man; Hans Driesch, The Science and Philosophy of the Organism (selection).


Session II: Modern “Disenchantment”: The “Engineering” Ideal of Modern Biotechnology: Readings: Hawthorne, “The Birthmark”; J. Loeb, “The Mechanistic Conception of Life”; Documents from the “Vital Processes” Project of the Rockefeller Foundation (1930s);


Tuesday Evening Film: 242 O’Shaughnessy


Session III: The Biotechnological Utopia: Readings: Fukuyama, Posthuman, chs. 1, 4, 5; P. Kitcher, “Utopian Eugenics and Social Inequality,” and Commentary by Diane Paul. Discussion of Fixed film.


Session IV: Reflections on Biotechnology; Ethical and Theological Dimensions: Readings: Fukuyama, Posthuman, chs. 6-9; Kass, “Biotechnology and Our Human Future”; R. M.  Green “Bioethics and Human Betterment”; Sloan, “A Tale of Three Francises: Toward a Franciscan Biotechnology.”

Summer Seminar Final Syllabus and Intro
Descartes Treatise on Man
Three Francises Alumni Version 2019
Loeb, Mechanistic Conception of Life

For those of you who did not download the Hawthorne reading for Phil Sloan's class before the link was disabled, here is one that works and is to the longer version:



Women and Power

Katherine Tillman

(3 sessions)


Course Description:

“POWER”: ability to act or produce an effect; capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect; possession of control, authority, or influence over others.  I have selected two Greek dramas, the heart-wrenching tragedy Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides and the bawdy comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes, because the first brings out the “powerlessness” of Greek women and the second a certain kind of “power” these women choose to weaponize.  The two essays by acclaimed British classicist Mary Beard provocatively support issues raised in the Greco-Roman classics, beginning with Telemachus’ silencing of his mother Penelope at the beginning of the Odyssey.  Beard suggests that we need a new understanding of “power,” one that decouples it from public prestige and emphasizes “thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders, . . . thinking about power as an attribute. . . , not as a possession. What I have in mind, "Beard says," is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually.”  It is this “new” kind of effectiveness that is proposed by Sue Monk Kidd’s award-winning novel The Secret Life of Bees (the book or ebook, not the movie).  Women’s collaborative power of love and community is portrayed in the lives of Lily Owens, a young girl in the segregated south in 1964, and her cherished housekeeper Roseleen, who run away from abuse and insinuate themselves into the home and hearts of the gracious Boatright sisters and their genteel beekeeping family. 


1. for Monday class discussion

Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides (410 B.C.);

DVD with Irene Papas, Costa Kazakos: to be shown in 242 O’Shag, 7:30-9:30 Sun. evening:



Lysistrata by Aristophanes (411 B.C.)  (selected as the least racy rendition among several examined) - “anonymous translator”


See also these two paintings: The Abduction of the Sabine Women by Nicolas Poussin, Rome, 1637–38, and The Intervention of the Sabine Women by Jacques-Louis David, 1799.  These paintings and their legendary stories (according to Plutarch and Livy) may be found at and  (Click on the paintings.)


2. for Wednesday class discussion:

Women & Power: A Manifesto (two essays: 2014 and 2017) by Mary Beard   

hardback with illustrations, paperback. or ebook:


online versions of Beard’s two essays:: women


3. for Friday class discussion:

The Secret Life of Bees (a novel) by Sue Monk Kidd

(N.B. the book, or ebook not the movie)   336 pages   available at:


OPTIONAL READING on women and the Catholic church.  See my article in Notre Dame Magazine  (Summer, 2018), "Unheard Of." Link:



Early Modern Conceptions of Divine Omnipotence

Tarek Dika

(2 sessions)


Course Description:

In a series of important letters, Descartes argued that God could have created an entirely different world, governed by entirely different laws, had He so desired. He could even have made 2+7=13. Spinoza, by contrast, argued that God always acts in one way, and that he could not have acted otherwise, for if he could he would not be immutable. This seminar examines two competing early modern conceptions of divine omnipotence. Readings include Descartes’ letters to Mersenne, which will be made available online, and Part I of Spinoza’s Ethics (ISBN 0872201309), which will also be made available online.


Read: Descartes On God S Creation Of The Eternal Truths first, followed by Descartes Meditations I Iii, followed by Spinoza Ethics Part I.




Selections from the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Steve Fallon

(2 sessions)


Course Description:

I look forward to two sessions discussing Hopkins’ extraordinary poetry, including such classics as "God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “Carrion Comfort,” and “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.” We will pay close attention to his vivid imagery and distinctive rhythms, and we will ask ourselves how his poems mean. I will circulate a list of poems to be discussed well before June. Any edition will do. Here are a few of the better bets, with Amazon links.


Hopkins: Poems, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Series, hardcover, under $15.00 ISBN 978-0679444695 (


Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dover Thrift edition, paperback $4.00 ISBN 978-0486478678 (


Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Penguin, paperback under $17.00 ISBN 978-0140420159 (




The Powers of Governments and the Adequacy of the United States Constitution

Walter Nicgorski

(2 Sessions)


Text for Discussion: The Federalist, commonly known as The Federalist Papers


Course Description:

James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution for his work in the run-up to and during the Constitutional Convention, observed in the months after the Convention, that “the great difficulty” in making a constitution for a government to be administered by humans over humans is to empower the government to control the governed while at the same time making provision for checking and avoiding the abuse of the powers granted.  In other words, the great difficulty is to give power and restrain power at the same time. The U.S. Constitution seems to be coming under heavier criticism than at any time in its 230 year history. How adequate is this often prized achievement of America’s founders to the issues of our day and the future? Whether one is disposed primarily to be a defender or a critic of the Constitution, a useful step is to understand its terms and its overall political theory as best we can. Toward that goal, these two sessions will discuss key papers of The Federalist, a collection that Jefferson, one of earliest critics of the Constitution, once described as “the best commentary on the principles of government ever written.”  Later Woodrow Wilson, constitutional theorist as well as political practitioner, observed that we do not live under the Constitution; rather we live under the Constitution as interpreted by The Federalist.


Any complete copy of the text will suffice.  “Complete” means all 85 Federalist papers. It is useful to have a copy which contains the briefly descriptive topics of each paper in the table of contents. This allows a reader to see a sketch of the argument of the whole set of papers even as we focus on a selection of the most significant papers. The Liberty Fund ( sells a very fine edition of The Federalist at a remarkably low price; available both in hardback and paperback versions.


First session: Papers 1, 9-10, 14-15, 23, 39 and 51.

Second session: Papers 52-53, 62-63, 68, 70-71, 78 and 85.




Natural Powers in Classical and Early Christian Thought

Andrew Radde-Gallwitz

(2 sessions)


Course Description:

During Lent of the year A.D. 378, the last year of his life, St. Basil of Caesarea preached nine Homilies on the Six Days of Creation. The series would become a classic of the genre. One of the more remarkable aspects of the homilies is Basil’s use of the notion of causal power (in Greek, dynamis) to describe how life emerged from the elements earth and water. His notion of power, we shallsee, derived from ancient traditions of natural and medical philosophy. Here it referred to the affective capacity or disposition of a thing or its parts—their capacity to act and be acted upon. We will first look at the concept of dynamis in a text by the second-century physician and philosopher Galen of Pergamum entitled On the Natural Powers. After defining this notion of power and its application to human anatomy and physiology, we will look at its use by Basil in his homilies. In particular, we can ask how closely Basil’s depiction of the creation of life matches Galen’s notion of embryological development and birth.


Day 1: Galen, On the Natural Powers, Book I and Basil, Homilies 1–2 On the Six Days

Day 2: Basil, Homilies 3–9 On the Six Days



  1. Galen, On the Natural Faculties, trans. A. J. Brock, Loeb Classical Library 7 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1916. ISBN: 9780674990784.
  2. St. Basil, Exegetic Homilies, trans. Sister Agnes Clare Way. The Fathers of the Church. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963. ISBN: 9780813213590.


I regret that newer translations are not available for these texts. Even older translations of both texts are available in the public domain online.


Recommended reading: my chapter “Powers And Properties in Basil of Caesarea's Homiliae in hexaemeron,” in Anna Marmodoro and Eirini Viltanioti, eds. Divine Powers in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017, 199–217 (pdf).




Sherlock Holmes and Thomas Kuhn

Michael Crowe

(1 session)

Course Description:

The question regularly arises: what books published in the twentieth century have now ascended to the status of Great Books? A number of prominent figures have claimed that the most important book on the nature of science published in the last sixty years is Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which has now sold over 1.4 million copies. For a number of decades nearly every PLS student read this book. I have recently published a book titled The Gestalt Shift in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Stories, in which I develop the thesis that the great majority of the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories fit the pattern of a Gestalt shift, a pattern of change prominent in Kuhn’s book. To prepare for my single-session class you will be asked to read three Holmes stories and a six-page summary of Kuhn’s book, which I prepared and which I will place on the internet. The three Holmes stories are the short stories “Silver Blaze” and “Last Bow” and the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, which can be skimmed. It is not expected that you read my new book, which is rather expensive. In the class, I will present a PowerPoint summary of my book. We will then discuss whether my thesis is plausible and whether those who claim that Kuhn’s book is one of the most important books of the twentieth century are correct.Kuhnoutline2002




Étienne de la Boétie, On voluntary servitude

Robert Goulding

(1 session)


Course Description:

Étienne de la Boétie’s Discours de la servitude volontaire, ou le Contr’un (Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, or the Against-one) is one of the most surprising and unlikely texts to have come out of the sixteenth century. Machiavelli had instructed princes, in brutally realistic terms, how to gain and maintain power. And almost everyone who read that book, or who simply lived under the princes of Renaissance Europe, imagined that the power of princes was something real. In this brilliantly paradoxical work, de la Boétie argued that the ruler’s power had no substance, but was something that the people had agreed to believe existed. In other words, they were complicit in their servitude; in fact, their servitude -- and the prince’s power – was nothing other than their belief that it existed! The moment the people, as a whole, ceased to believe that political power was anything at all, it would fade like a dream. The young Montaigne was captivated by de la Boétie’s unconventional mind, and formed a fast friendship with him when they met in 1559. He did not have long to enjoy his friend’s intellectual companionship, however, as de la Boétie died just four years later, at the age of 32. Montaigne’s immensely moving essay “On Friendship” used their deep connection (“If a man should ask me to explain why I loved him, I find it could only be expressed by replying: because it was he, because it was I”) as a means to understand the nature of friendship itself. Explicitly mentioned here, de la Boétie in a sense haunts almost every one of Montaigne’s great essays; somewhere, in every essay, Montaigne will slip a passing allusion to his friend or to his work, On Voluntary Servitude. In more modern times, the discourse has been adopted by anarchists and libertarians (though de la Boétie was really neither). We will read it for the remarkable questions it raises about the nature of power -- and its very existence as anything more than a willingly adopted delusion.


The text we are using can be ordered through Hackett Publishing Company: Please use only this edition!




Power and Corruption in Rousseau’s

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Emma Planinc

(1 session)


Course Description:

Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men (1754; hereafter Second Discourse) is a text written in response to a prize competition posed by the Academy of Dijon: “what is the origin of inequality among men; and is it authorized by the natural law?” While he addressed the Academy’s prompt, Rousseau, however, remade the topic and thesis of the essay into one more to his liking: “Of all the branches of human knowledge, the most useful and the least advanced seems to me to be that of man; and I dare say that the inscription on the temple at Delphi [Know Thyself] alone contained a precept more important and more difficult than all the tomes of the moralists.  Thus I regard the subject of this discourse as one of the most interesting questions that philosophy is capable of proposing, and unhappily for us, one of the thorniest that philosophers can attempt to resolve.  For how can the source of the inequality among men be known unless one begins by knowing men themselves?”


Beginning his account in the pure state of nature, this investigation of man leads Rousseau to his infamous claim that civilization and society have corrupted human nature, and that power and reputation are all-consuming and seemingly inescapable qualities of the de-naturalized human being. Tracking the progress of inequality in the Second Discourse, Rousseau asks us to consider ourselves in ways that maintain their relevance and importance in contemporary society: have we been corrupted absolutely? Is the inequality engendered by power relations and property inescapable? Is there any conception of the human being that exists for us outside of our social and political dependence on others, and on leaders? How are we to know ourselves?


In this session, we shall read all of Rousseau’s Second Discourse. Translations vary widely, and it is best to be on the same page (literally). The recommended edition is: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Basic Political Writings, trans. and ed. Donald A Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1987).


NOTE: Please be sure to read both the main text and Rousseau’s notes!




Power in Tolstoy’s War & Peace

Thomas Stapleford

(1 session)



Course Description:

Much of Tolstoy’s War & Peace challenges common assumptions about power, leadership, and history. In Tolstoy’s second epilogue to the novel, he takes up those themes directly. We’ll analyze and discuss his arguments in this session. If you have the time and interest, reading (or re-reading!) the whole novel would of course be a great experience and will enhance your understanding of the arguments he lays out, but you are not expected to do so!


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Cost: $750 for one participant and $1,000 for two participants. Prices increase after April 30th.

Dorms: $75 for single room per night and $65 for a double room per person per night

Morris Inn: $139 per night and you will need to contact them directly and mention the PLS Summer Symposium (800-280-7256 or 574-631-2000)

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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