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Understanding What it Means to Be Human

Seminars in Catholic intellectual tradition explore humanity and personal growth

As a Catholic institution of higher learning, Sacred Heart University is charged with overseeing students’ academic and personal growth, as well as professional and spiritual development. Striving for a strong ethical and moral foundation grounded in the humanities and liberal arts is part of that charter.

No matter how quickly the world changes, the need to understand ourselves and the challenges and opportunities that await remain constant. To that end, The Human Journey Seminars: Great Books in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition are the University’s academic signature common core requirement for all students.

These seminars directly reflect the University’s mission. According to Michelle Loris, associate dean, College of Arts and Sciences, and chair, Department of Catholic Studies, SHU defines that tradition as a 2,000-year-old ongoing, interdisciplinary conversation between the great thinkers, writers and artists of the Catholic tradition and the cultures of their time.

Exploring that conversation involves asking fundamental and enduring questions about God, humanity, society and nature.

Loris explains that four fundamental questions of human existence frame SHU’s great books seminars: What does it mean to be human and have a relationship with God? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose? What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world? What does it mean to form a more just society for the common good?

These courses, she points out, are non-specialized and interdisciplinary by design, and they engage students in this interdisciplinary conversation through seminar pedagogy.

“Our goal is to develop a community of learners who grapple with great books and authors, the enduring questions and pressing contemporary issues,” Loris says. “We want students to reflect upon how these books and big questions relate to their lives and the world in which they live. The dynamics of these seminars, in which the central activities are reading, reflection and dialogue, foster self-awareness, moral clarity and community in the classroom.”

Sacred Heart hires and trains faculty who are dedicated to keeping Catholic intellectual thought at the heart of the University and who see these seminars as a compelling and exciting educational experience for students, Loris adds. Faculty lead discussions that foster an ability to question, to think critically, to develop perspective and moral understanding and to see the enduring relevance of the Catholic intellectual tradition in their lives.

“The CIT seminars give students an opportunity to grow as thinkers and people,” says Emily Bryan, adjunct instructor in the Department of Catholic Studies. “Reading great works of the tradition in an intimate seminar setting prompts some of the most stimulating conversations I have ever had in a college environment. Students bring their experience and education to bear on the big questions that concern us all.”

Mary Bauer, another adjunct instructor in Catholic Studies, says the CIT seminars play an important role in developing students for the real world.

“These courses have a real impact on who students become as professionals, spouses and citizens,” Bauer says. “The seminars challenge students to look at who they are and the world around them and to think about the kind of person they want to be and how they want to fit into the larger picture of their world.”

Many of the students who have taken these courses agree with Bryan’s and Bauer’s analyses.

“The CIT seminars allowed me to participate in well-rounded, open discussions about important topics, as well as to reflect upon my own beliefs,” says Erin Curley, a junior and theology and religious studies major. “While the course focused on the Catholic tradition, it allowed students of all faiths and backgrounds to discuss the moral issues that have an impact on our lives today.”

“The CIT seminars enabled me to have a better understanding of what it means to be human, and the moral and ethical implications that arise in our world,” says junior math major Trevor O’Brien. “Being able to compare my ideas with other students’ thinking allowed for intellectual conversation and deeper thinking about myself and my faith.”