Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas | College of Liberal Arts
skip to content The University of Texas at Austin

Civic Thought Initiative

College of Liberal Arts

Edit Headline Text

Edit Subhead Text


Launched in the fall of 2023, the Civic Thought Initiative supports the creation and revision of courses that will deepen students’ understanding of the theoretical foundations of liberty, the historical development of free institutions, the modern traditions of liberal and conservative thought, and the practices of constructive civil discourse.

Grants are available to develop or adapt existing courses in the following areas:

College of Liberal Arts


1. Foundations of Liberty: courses that explore the philosophical arguments for political, religious, economic, and intellectual liberty in ancient, medieval, and modern thought; the historical development of free institutions, especially in the Anglo-American tradition; and the expansion of liberty in different historical contexts, all with the aim of understanding the deepest arguments for the liberty we enjoy and the deepest challenges that liberty faces.

Courses funded so far include:

Thomas Paine, Liberalism, and the Enlightenment

Liberty and Empire: Machiavelli

Origin of the Idea of Religious Liberty

Roots of Democracy

Citizenship and Patriotism

Another example of a course we would like to develop is:

The Development of Parliamentary Democracy

College of Liberal Arts

This caption describes the image above.

2. Intellectual Pluralism: courses that explore the intellectual sources and most compelling expressions of political views on both the left and right, taught with a view to deepening students’ understanding of important controversies. Each course should thus include multiple perspectives on the ideas explored.


Here are examples of courses we would like to develop or revive, some of which have been taught in the past:

The Liberal Tradition in America

The Conservative Tradition in America

African-American Political Thought

Left and Right in Comparative Perspective

College of Liberal Arts

This caption describes the image above.

3. Civil Discourse: Building on the “Civil Discourse and Disagreement” course development grant program offered by the dean in spring 2023, the Jefferson Center provides grants to revise existing courses in a variety of disciplines, introducing activities that teach skills of civil discourse capable of bridging ideological divides. As part of this initiative the Center sponsors afternoon debates on the model promoted by the organization Braver Angels [link to], in which students explore controversial topics in a structured forum that encourages respectful disagreement. Instructors are encouraged to suggest topics for these debates and to grant extra credit to their students for taking part. Occasional lunchtime discussions also allow participating instructors to share their ideas and experiences.

Courses for which grants have been provided so far include:

Constitutional Principles: Core Texts

Masterworks of World Drama

Human Nature and the State of Nature

Law and Justice in the Bible

The Arab-Israeli Conflict

New proposals to revise courses on controversial topics and major conflicts are especially welcome.

Funding and Support

Tenured, tenure-track, and instructional track faculty may apply for grants of $5000 to develop a course under any of the above rubrics, which they will commit to teaching at least twice. Preference will be given to courses built around core texts, but others will be approved as funding allows. Grants may in most cases be taken either in research funds or summer salary.

Departments may subsequently apply to the Jefferson Center to cover the cost of graduate students to teach these courses during the summer or after their sixth year of funding.

Grant Application: 

Application deadline for new courses to be offered in fall 2024: January 20, 2024.

Application deadline for new courses to be offered in spring 2025: May 1, 2025.

Applications for civil discourse course revisions may be made any time before the first day of classes in the semester in which they are taught.

PDFWord Document

For more information, please contact Lorraine Pangle.