Over 10 years ago, when we first conceived of an academic program in Catholic Studies, we expected some interest from students who might choose to minor in this area. We didn’t, however, anticipate that many students would pursue a major. But time has proven us wrong. In fact, 10 students choose to major in Catholic Studies for every student who chooses to minor in it. Our program now has approximately 200 majors, making it one of the largest majors in the College of Arts and Sciences.
When the major in Catholic Studies was initially designed, no academic department existed in this area. As a consequence, the original core courses for the major were offered in collaboration with several other university departments – for example, philosophy, theology and English. The resulting major was interdisciplinary in the sense that students were required to take courses in each of these disciplines as well as others. None of these courses, however, was, strictly speaking, a Catholic Studies course, and as a result the sort of integration of these disciplines that we had hoped to achieve remained somewhat elusive.
For this reason, and as the number of our majors grew, our need to develop a distinctive Catholic Studies core curriculum became more urgent. Several years ago Catholic Studies faculty began to plan this new curriculum fully aware that, because no other such course of study exists at any other university, whatever plan we designed would serve as a model for other institutions seeking to form Catholic Studies programs. In spring 2005, our new core curriculum was approved by the university. As of this academic year, it is now the official set of required courses for entering Catholic Studies students.
The core of the new program consists of four required core courses, each of which integrates material from at least three different disciplinary areas (for example, a course might include material from history, philosophy and literature). The first-level course, The Search for Happiness, confronts students with fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life and carefully investigates a Catholic response to these questions. The second course, Paths and Practices of Catholic Spirituality, explores the spiritual life and its expressions in the Catholic tradition. The third course, The Catholic Vision, brings students into an encounter with the foundational Christian themes of creation and redemption in theology, literature and the arts. The fourth-level course, The Church and Culture, concentrates on Christian engagement with the world in its political, economic and cultural dimensions. In addition to these four core courses, majors also take courses in areas of philosophy, history and aesthetics, as well as several additional Catholic Studies electives.
In implementing this new core curriculum, we have taken a major step in developing a comprehensive and integrated Catholic Studies program that not only meets the needs of our students but also contributes to the Catholic mission of the university.