Great Texts program explores world’s ‘most important’ questions

The Henry Library is located in Brooks Residential College and serves as a hotspot for nighttime study sessions and reading of great ancient works. Olivia Havre | Photographer

By Allie Sczech | Reporter

Sprinkled throughout the halls of Brooks Residential College and Morrison Hall, the Great Texts department is no stranger to names like Virgil, Aquinas and Tolkien.

Great Texts — which is available as a major and a minor — is one of four opportunities offered in the Honors College. Through a study of fundamental works of philosophy, theology and literature, Great Texts allows students to “consider the messy questions that contemporary disciplines often set aside, exploring the connections between what we know, how we live and what we enjoy.”

Dr. Phillip Donnelly, director of the Great Texts program, echoed this purpose and said Great Texts explores a wide range of time periods for students to study.

“The Great Texts major offers an apprenticeship in the long conversation — from the ancients to the present — about the most practical and important questions informing daily life and intellectual inquiry in the modern world, Donnelly said.

Donnelly said the name “Great Texts” is meant to holistically describe the field of study.

“The notion of ‘texts’ is also much larger than merely ‘books,’ because our courses include works of music, drama, visual arts and scientific inquiry,” Donnelly said.

In addition to courses covering the ancient and medieval worlds, the Great Texts department offers a variety of courses focused on more recent works and phenomena.

“We also offer courses focused on the 20th century: Great Texts in Leadership, Great Texts in Business, for example, as well as Black Intellectual Traditions, Great Texts by Women, Great Texts in Christian Spirituality, Masterworks in Visual Art, Masterworks in Music and Great Texts in Modern Science,” Donnelly said.

Dr. Michael Foley, professor of patristics, said the question of which texts are worthy of being studied is an ongoing debate.

“Do you measure a great book because of its excellence, or do you measure a great book because of its influence?” Foley said.

Donnelly said the common thread is an underlying connection with human life, knowledge, enjoyment or ethical action.

“They typically address the debates about either intellectual inquiry or how people should live together or how we find pleasure,” Donnelly said. “However, they do this in a manner that actually embodies some aspect of the connections among these issues. They also typically do this by responding to claims made by others before them.”

Foley said a Great Texts major or minor can be beneficial for all students, regardless of their life plan.

“It can enrich you no matter what profession you choose,” Foley said.