Liberal Studies

in the

Great Books

St. Anselm College

The Liberal Studies Program at Saint Anselm College is one of perhaps a dozen programs in the United States that offers a curriculum using the Great Books as its reading list. It aims at a breadth of knowledge, without being superficial, that comes from being versed in the principles and methods of various arts and sciences, rather than at know-how of a distinctive sort, like engineering or business. Every effort is directed at making a good beginning by getting at what is primary in the different arts and sciences. The curriculum of the program introduces the student to a comprehensive study of philosophy, literature, theology, history, and, to a lesser extent, mathematics and the experimental sciences through some of the greatest works in these fields. By reading and discussing great works, students acquire the habits of mind that mark the liberally educated person.

The program has strong roots in history. One can point to an old and long honored tradition of liberal education which reaches back to a beginning many centuries before Christ. The works of the greatest minds have, until recent times, always been the preferred material of study. And the discussion method of teaching is as old as Socrates.

Classes are small seminars with no more than twenty students rather than lectures. Learning is essentially an activity that the student does within himself, and he is the primary agent in his education. This is why daily preparation and regular participation in the seminars is such an important part of the program. Students are made to think about what they have read, discuss with others what a text means, and discern for themselves whatever truths are contained in it. Original texts are read in preference to textbooks. Though a professor presides at the seminar, the professor is not the primary teacher, but simply the leading student among less advanced students. The real teachers are Plato, Cicero, St. Augustine, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky, the authors of the Great Books.

Some works are deserving of more careful treatment than others. Courses called "preceptorials" respect this need by devoting an entire semester to the study of only one or two books. The preceptorials offered change from year to year and try to take into account the interest of the students in the program. The Liberal Studies Program is administered by the Department of Philosophy. Eight semester courses are unique to the program; the remainder of the required courses are drawn from the regular college offerings, with the heaviest concentration in philosophy and theology. This is in recognition that philosophy provides the analytical tools needed to appreciate fully the great works studied and that the ultimate aim and crown of the program is a wisdom which only philosophy and theology can reveal.

Requirements for Graduation

Like all students at Saint Anselm College, Liberal Studies majors must meet the general course requirements of the college. (The required three semesters of theology will not be waived for non- Catholic students majoring in Liberal Studies.) In addition to these requirements, the Liberal Studies Program adds fourteen of its own: six Great Books Seminars, two preceptorials, three courses in philosophy (logic, philosophy of science, and metaphysics), one in fine arts, and two in literature.

The Liberal Studies Program is built around the Great Books Seminars (GBS). These seminars are devoted to a reading and discussion of the original works of the best minds of the West, both ancient and modern. The sequence of six Great Books Seminars follows closely their historical order and is divided into Greek, Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Early Modern and Late Modern. The sequence begins with the second semester of the freshman year and concludes with the first semester of the senior year. Students do best to take the seminars in order since newer books often cannot be fully understood without a knowledge of many older books. The sequence will be modified, however, for a sufficiently weighty reason. A proseminar is also offered to freshmen in their first semester. The proseminar introduces prospective majors to the program by means of books from different authors from different ages. Unlike the six Great Book Seminars, the proseminar is not required, though it is highly recommended and, if chosen, counts for one of the literature requirements. Besides the seminars, two preceptorials are also required of Liberal Studies Majors. Students do best to take them in their junior and senior years when they are better prepared for the more rigorous and in-depth study which they involve. In keeping with the character of the program, the remainder of the required courses are interdisciplinary in nature. Unlike other majors in which students may graduate with little exposure to other disciplines, Liberal Studies majors must take prescribed courses in the fine arts, literature, and philosophy, and they are encouraged to take courses in classics, history, and the experimental sciences. Nine electives remain open for Liberal Studies majors, and they are sufficient to allow interested students to fulfill the requirements of any one of the college's certificate programs.

Who Should Consider a Major in Liberal Studies?

  • Students who enjoy examining texts closely and discussing intelligently matters of great consequence.
  • Students who prefer to meet Aristotle, St. Thomas, Galileo, Descartes, and other great thinkers of Western Civilization directly in their original writings.
  • Students who enjoy the discipline and discovery of self-motivated study and reading.

The Liberal Studies Program does not demand genius on the part of its students. It does require an honest desire to learn and the will to do serious intellectual work.

While the Liberal Studies Program aims at a person's own excellence, the perfection of a person's own mind, it also develops the logical and verbal skills which will serve students well in whatever walk of life they enter. The Liberal Studies major will prepare a person not only to get a job, but also to live a better, happier life and to begin the lifetime of learning that makes a person truly educated. Past graduates in Liberal Studies have developed a breadth of interests that has attracted them to a wide variety of occupations.

Students should note that any of the Great Books Seminars will fulfill the college's general requirement of one philosophy elective. For more information, please contact the Program Director, Montague Brown, or the Chairman of the Philosophy Department, Kevin Staley, or send us e-mail below.

Basic Reading List


Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Aristotle, Poetics; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine; Machiavelli, The Prince; Shakespeare, King Lear; Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, Federalist Papers; Henri Bergson, Introduction to Metaphysics.


Homer, Odyssey; Aeschylus, Oresteia; Sophocles, Theban Plays; Euripides, Hippolytus; Aristophanes, Clouds; Herodotus, The Histories; Thucydides, Peloponnesian War; Plato, Republic; Plutarch, Greek Lives; Aristotle, Poetics.


Vergil, Aeneid; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; Cicero, On Old Age, On Friendship; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations; Tacitus, Annals; Plutarch, Roman Lives; Plotinus, Enneads; St. Augustine, Confessions.


Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy; St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, On Free Choice of the Will, On the Teacher; Beowulf; Anselm, Proslogion, Monologion; Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship, On the Teacher; Dante, Divine Comedy; Chaucer, Canterbury Tales.


Shakespeare, Henry V, King Lear, Hamlet, Tempest, Sonnets; Bacon, The Great Instauration, Novum Organum; Montaigne, Essays; Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, The Bondage of the Will; Erasmus, Handbook for the Militant Christian, In Praise of Folly; Machiavelli, The Prince; Thomas More, Utopia; Milton, Paradise Lost



Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions; Descartes, Meditations; Locke, Second Treatise on Government; Rousseau, The Social Contract; Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding; Kant, Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics; Goethe, Faust; Racine, Phaedre; Corneille, Le Cid; Swift, Gulliver's Travels.


Madison, Hamilton, Jay, The Federalist Papers; DeTocqueville, Democracy in America; Dostoyevsky, Brothers Karamazov; Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling; Newman, The Idea of a University; Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil; Hegel, Introduction to Phenomenology of Mind; Tolstoy, Short Stories; Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, Future of an Illusion; Austen, Emma.

Recent Preceptorials

  • DeTocqueville: Democracy in America
  • Plato, Aristotle, St. John, Aelred of Riveaux: On Friendship
  • Thomas Aquinas: Treatise on the Virtues
  • St. Augustine: City of God
  • Dante: Divine Comedy
  • Plato: Republic
  • Confucius and Lao-Tzu
  • Pascal: Penses and Provincial Letters
  • Newman: The Idea of a University
  • Euclid: The Elements

A Typical Course of Studies for a GBS Major:




Liberal Studies Resources

Electronic Texts

Course Pages

Liberal Studies Graduate Programs

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