The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Pangles Head Up Core Texts Program

Mon, September 14, 2009

Government professors Thomas and Lorraine Pangle have been named co-directors of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas, College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy L. Diehl announced this week.

The husband and wife team took over as interim leaders of the college's Western Civilization program last December. With strong support from the program's steering committee, they spent most of this year developing the Jefferson Center, which grew out of the Western Civilization program.

This semester, the center is offering an expanded list of courses, giving students more opportunities to study the great books in depth and better understand the philosophy, literature, religion and science that helped shape American society.

"Teaching students about the great books that shaped our society is an essential mission of any top-tier university," President Wiliam Powers Jr. said. "Under the leadership of Tom and Lorraine Pangle, the Thomas Jefferson Center will allow us to do just that and help ensure that our graduates understand the ideas that have driven modern history."

"I'm excited to be able to help develop a great books program that gives students a grounding in the foundational texts of the West and brings these works into dialogue with great works from other traditions as well," Lorraine Pangle said. "It's been heartening to see how many departments and professors from across the college have been happy to contribute to the program."

The center, in collaboration with the Humanities honors program, is offering a major in the great books for honors students. It is also developing a certificate program in Core Texts and Ideas, a sequence of six courses on major texts and ideas that will give freshmen and sophomores in all colleges an integrated path through the university's core curriculum. More than 75 undergraduates have expressed an interest in the certificate program.

"At a time of increasing interest in undergraduate great books programs, ours is already being taken as a model by universities in the U.S. and in Europe that have contacted us for advice and guidance," said Thomas Pangle, who compares the program to Yale's Directed Studies program and Columbia's Core Curriculum.

Where similar programs on other campuses have sometimes been criticized for ideological narrowness, for limiting themselves to a rigidly prescribed canon of texts, or for focusing mainly on sweeping and inevitably shallow survey courses, the Jefferson Center has shown a spirit of intellectual rigor and an insistence on intellectual diversity, Diehl said.

"This vision is already bearing fruit," said Diehl. "Since January, the Jefferson Center has recruited more than a dozen new faculty affiliates and put together a list of over 40 courses in the great books for 2009-10. The list is noteworthy both for the quality and range of the works to be studied and for the breadth of perspectives and intellectual approaches of the participating faculty."

"The leadership of the new Jefferson Center has done an excellent job of designing courses to fit the university's core curriculum," Paul Woodruff, dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies, said.  "I am delighted to report that students will now be able to satisfy state-mandated core requirements while reading core books. This result sounds easy and obvious, but in fact it took a lot of work."

The center has also started an undergraduate book club, which began meeting in May, and is continuing the Western Civilization program's lecture series, with lectures scheduled for 2009-10 on Cervantes, Augustine, Homer and the Bible, Spartacus and Rousseau.

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