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Regularly Offered Courses

CSMA 500, Catholic Thought and Culture I

The interdisciplinary study in Catholic Thought and Culture I looks at the period from antiquity to the early Middle Ages. This course will consider some pre-Christian works of intellect and imagination so that we may glimpse the contributions such works make to the later development of the Catholic tradition. Upon completion of Catholic Thought and Culture I, students will have a sense of the depth, complexity, and beauty of the Catholic intellectual tradition as it has developed up to medieval times.

This course fulfills the CSMA 500 requirement.

CSMA 501, Catholic Thought and Culture II

This course provides an interdisciplinary exploration of the wisdom of the Catholic tradition expressed through works of intellect and imagination, from the late medieval period up to contemporary times. Classics in literature, art, theology, philosophy, music, the sciences, and/or architecture are discussed. Emphasis is placed on recognizing the integrity of the grounding Catholic vision and on tracing the unified development and expansion of that vision over time.

This course fulfills the CSMA 501 requirement.

CSMA 510, Essentials of the Catholic Faith

This course will focus on a theological study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its entirety, aimed at helping students develop a broad and comprehensive grasp of the essential claims of the Catholic faith and an understanding of its unity and integrity. Particular attention is given to the scope and integrity of the teachings of the Catholic Church with regard to the inter-relationship of the four sections of the Catechism, namely, the Profession of Faith, the Sacraments, Life in Christ, and Prayer. Explicit attention will be given to ways in which Catholic teachings are manifested in the classic texts and works of art, such as those examined in Catholic Thought and Culture I and II.

This course fulfills the area requirement of Catholic Studies and Theology.

CSMA 519, Topics in Catholic Studies and Theology

Augustine’s City of God

Augustine began writing City of God in 413 AD. His original intention was to defend the Christian church against its pagan critics, who held Christianity responsible for bringing about the sack of Rome in 410. However, by the time he had finished (426), Augustine’s work had grown into a comprehensive assault on the entirety of pagan Roman thought and culture through a masterful interweaving of Scripture and ancient Greek (Platonic) philosophy. This course will consist of a close reading of the entirety of City of God, with special emphasis on the political, historical, and theological themes that have made Augustine’s work second only to the Bible in the shaping of Western Christianity.

The Catholic Social Tradition

This course provides an investigation into the ways in which Catholicism is inherently social and ecclesial. Its specific focus is on the Christian engagement with the world. The course’s framework will be taken from the analysis of society into three spheres of action (culture, economics and politics) as described in Centesimus annus. We will examine the ways that Revelation, the sacramental life, and the teachings of the Church call Catholics to seek holiness and to witness to their faith in the world. Specific topics will include social and economic justice, politics and public policy, lay and religious apostolates, and marriage and family.

The Church and the Biomedical Revolution

What difference does Catholic faith make to the asking and answering of the questions—moral, philosophical, political—raised by contemporary research in the life sciences and in medical practice? This course will identify and evaluate the origins, development, and contemporary state of Catholic contributions—both Magisterial and theological—to the current global debate over such topics as embryo research, artificial reproductive technologies, cloning, genetic therapy and enhancement, organ replacement, life-prolonging technologies, euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide. Of primary concern will be the interpretation of official Catholic interventions in contemporary bioethical debate, both as a means for considering specific questions related to the relationship between faith and reason as well as more general questions regarding the nature of the Church’s engagement with culture.

John Henry Newman

Called by the Church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, “the most important theological thinker of modern times,” Cardinal Newman is perhaps best known for his work on university education but his most significant intellectual work was in the area of development of doctrine, the relations of faith and reason, and the role of authority and conscience in the life of the Church. The course will focus on the contemporary relevance of Newman’s thought in each of these areas but will also involve a consideration of his sermons and devotional writings, works which led T. S. Eliot to refer to Newman as one of the two greatest homilists in the English language.

Thomas Aquinas

An examination of some major topics in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Possible topics include: Aquinas's conception of philiosophy and its relation to faith; God; and the destiny of the human being.

CSMA 525, Philosophical Foundations for Theology

Since Christianity encountered the secular philosophies of the ancient world, theology has been shaped and influenced by philosophy.  Christian theologians have had to respond to challenges to their doctrines brought by philosophers and they have often adopted the conceptual frameworks and technical language of philosophy.  As a result, even though theology and philosophy are distinct disciplines, a knowledge of philosophy is really necessary in order to understand theology.  This course aims to provide a basic understanding of the philosophical concepts that constitute much of the foundation of Catholic theology, especially in the areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.  Special attention will be given to Platonic and Aristotelian schools of thought.

CSMA 529, Topics in Catholic Studies and Philosophy

This course considers particular topics in the area of Catholic Studies and Philosophy.  Although the topics will vary, the courses will have both a philosophical foundation and an interdisciplinary focus.

These topics courses will fulfil the area requirement of Catholic Studies and Philosophy.

Recent courses taught under CSMA 529:

Augustine’s Confessions

St. Augustine’s Confessions is one of the most enduring and influential works of Christian literature, one that speaks about the relation between God and man in an unprecedented way. Augustine makes his confession to God by telling the story of his life, and he casts the mysteries of theology in terms of his own experience. As we explore the philosophical, theological, and literary dimensions of this remarkable work, we will consider the particulars of Augustine’s story and the way those particulars set the stage for Augustine’s reflection on creatures and their Creator, alienation and intimacy, memory and time, and sin and grace.


This course will consider virtue as essential for understanding and speaking about the reality of human moral action.  The writings of Josef Pieper will serve as a guide to the foundational formulation of the virtues by St. Thomas Aquinas around the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance.  Romano Guardini’s The Virtues will provide a profound theological consideration of a number of allied virtues in the context of the dynamics of the human person.  In all of this we will strive to see how the understanding of the virtues provides insights into the fundamental reality of the human person and provides us with a vocabulary for speaking about and analyzing the moral actions of the human person.  In conjunction with these speculative works, we shall read Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed.  Reported to be Pope Francis’ favorite novel, The Betrothed will provide an opportunity for considering the virtues in the concrete, and the reality of the virtues will, in turn, help us think more substantively and deeply about this classic of world literature.


CSMA 539, Topics in Catholic Studies and History

This course considers particular topics in the area of Catholic Studies and History.  Although the topics will vary, the courses will have both an historical foundation and an interdisciplinary focus. 

These topics courses will fulfil the area requirement of Catholic Studies and History.

Recent courses taught under CSMA 539:

Christopher Dawson

In this course we will examine the life and thought of the Catholic convert historian, Christopher Dawson whose work on the foundational role of religion in culture had such an important impact on Catholic thought in the 20th century. T. S. Eliot who had been deeply influenced by Dawson’s Progress and Religion, urged Dawson to take up a Catholic account of sexuality in response to the Church of England’s decision to alter its teaching on artificial birth control. Dawson’s “Christianity and Sex,” was published in 1930 and remains relevant in our own day. Eliot later called him the most powerful intellectual influence in England. We will read a variety of books and essays on subjects ranging from a Catholic view of history, to Islamic mysticism to the special character of Europe to the crisis of modern education.

The History of Western Education

The heart of any culture, as well as its continuity, can be found in its educational tradition, the distillation for the next generation of its highest ideals and most important truths.  For the West this began with the Greeks, who set in place, some five centuries before Christ, the main aspects of a tradition that lasted, with significant developments, up until very recent times.  This course will trace that tradition, using both primary and secondary source material, and will include: its origins in fifth- century BC Greece; its universalization during the Hellenistic period; its encounter with Christianity in the Patristic era; its Christian instantiation under the Carolingian Empire; the great Medieval educational synthesis and the rise of the University; the development of Renaissance humanism and the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits; Newman’s classic expression of the tradition in The Idea of a University; and the great challenge to that tradition and change that has taken place during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

St. Francis and His World

St. Francis was born into a world in the throes of radical transformation, arguably one of the most decisive periods of change in European history. It was a period that witnessed the birth of the modern state, the revival of urban life and the early formation of market economies, which, with the help of crusaders, became international in scope. The birth of the first European universities and the recovery of the corpus of Aristotle’s writings revolutionized the study of the liberal arts, theology and law.  For the first time in almost a millennium, the lay urban classes became a center of energy and creativity in all spheres of life, especially in St. Francis’ Italy. Feeding off of the spiritual energy of a century of papal, monastic, and clerical reform, lay piety was in ferment, drawn simultaneously to the Church and to heretical sects like the Cathars. In short, it was a world in need of a saint, who could channel its wild energy without dampening it. This was the occupation given to St. Francis, whose piety was as radically innovative as it was radically traditional.  

After a brief survey of the political, economic, and religious transformations of Europe from the 11th-13th centuries, we will map out and explore the world of St. Francis as three concentric spheres, beginning with St. Francis’ own writings. We will then turn to the writings of fellow Franciscans,  especially Thomas of Celano and St. Bonaventure, the two principal biographers of St. Francis, to examine the ways in which the members of his order sought to translate the saint’s charisma for the order and for the world at large. Finally, we will read excerpts from contemporary historians, both Franciscan and non-Franciscan for yet another perspective on the way in which Franciscan charisma encountered the world.


The development of modern Western culture is often described as a steady process of “secularization,” in which a distinctively Christian vision of reality inexorably recedes, leaving in its wake a “disenchanted” but presumptively real world best described by the natural sciences, or an exclusively naturalistic philosophy, with no place for God or the transcendent. Drawing on the recent work of Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) and others, this course examines recent challenges to this “master narrative” of a secularized modernity. How did this narrative come to achieve the status of unquestioned truth? How might we tell the story of modernity in a way that does not foreclose the reality of God and transcendence, but is also more than nostalgia for an imagined past? Recent debates over the coherence of “secularization” narratives provide the occasion for rediscovering the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition as a vantage point from which to engage and critique modern culture.

CSMA 549, Topics in Catholic Studies and the Arts

This course considers particular topics in the area of Catholic Studies and the Arts.  Although the topics will vary, the courses will have both an aesthetic foundation and an interdisciplinary focus. 

These topics courses will fulfil the area requirement of Catholic Studies and the Arts.

Recent courses taught under CSMA 549:

The Catholic Novel

In this course, we will examine the interrelationships among the novelist, the novelist’s faith, and the audience.  What does it mean to be a “Catholic novelist”? At what points are there conflicts between the demands of art and the demands of faith, and how may those conflicts be resolved?  We’ll explore these and many related questions as we read the greatest Catholic writers of the modern era, including Dostoevsky, Mauriac, Greene, Waugh, and O’Connor.  We will also take some time to see how these issues play out in the other major narrative medium of our time, film, by investigating some work by the Catholic filmmaker Robert Bresson.  Students will be encouraged to work out and articulate their own answers to the artistic and religious questions that these works raise for us.

Dante’s Divine Comedy

In this class we will read and discuss Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy. While we will situate the poem in history, and will pay close attention to the poem's engagement with political and theological controversies, our main task will be to attend to the language, structure, and imagery of Dante's poem itself.

CSMA 593, Topics in Catholic Studies

Topics courses examine in detail a small, focused set of questions arising from one or more of the disciplines within the graduate Catholic Studies program. Topics and instructors will vary.

Recent courses taught under CSMA 593:

Contemporary Challenges of Catholic, K-12 Education

The decline in Catholic school enrollment by approximately 50% over the past fifty years and the continued closing of K-8 parochial and/or secondary Catholic schools has led many to question the viability of Catholic, K-12 education in the 21st century.  Much of this crisis has been precipitated by a battle over what it means to be Catholic today—a battle over what many call “Catholic identity.”  This course explores the history, philosophy/theology, and challenges of K-12 Catholic education in the United States over the past 100 years.  Students will be exposed to the theoretical foundations upon which Catholic schools have been built, the changes that have happened within the Catholic Church that have impacted Catholic schooling, and the future of Catholic education.   Discussions will focus on creative solutions to challenges facing Catholic schools today.  Students will also research a current issue facing Catholic schools and prepare a paper/presentation based on that research.

Thomas More

Thomas More was the exemplary renaissance man: a scholar, lawyer, and statesman of wit and humor dedicated to his wife and children.  He held political office second in power only to the king whom he served faithfully and at whose orders he was beheaded.  The Catholic Church has declared him a martyr.  His is certainly a remarkable life, and it has a substantial paper trail.  We will read a number of his major works as well as study his life with the goal of determining if and how he achieved such a remarkable integration of thought and life.  The readings include More’s two great political works, the enigmatic Utopia, and his History of King Richard III, which so influenced Shakespeare’s play; his Dialog concerning Heresies in defense of the Catholic Church against the emerging protestant reformers; and, from his imprisonment in the Tower of London, the Dialog of Comfort in Tribulation and his prison letters.