The Great Conversation

Students in Great Con 218 posing for one last Tableau Vivant (Picaso’s Guernica)
Students in Great Con 218 posing for one last Tableau Vivant (Picasso’s Guernica)

The Great Conversation is a sequence of five courses that introduces the major epochs of Western civilization to students via great works of human achievement. Beginning with the study of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews, the program traces the evolution of literacy and artistic expression, philosophic thought, religious belief, and the sciences of human behavior into the modern world. Students who complete the program bring a broad grounding in most of the liberal arts to their majors, to other courses, and to their study of other cultures.

Students in the program are not passive recipients of information about their intellectual heritage. Rather, they respond to great works in an interdisciplinary way, challenging the ideas expressed in the works and challenging their own ideas as well, thus joining in the great conversation of men and women through the ages about perennial issues of human life.

“Conners” are diverse in their aspirations. Students who have completed the program have majored in biology, classics, political science, chemistry, literature and language, music — the whole range of liberal arts. The knowledge and skills acquired through the Great Conversation apply to all disciplines, and are useful throughout adult life.

Testing beliefs

The Great Conversation challenges students to share ideas orally and in writing, to focus thoughts into constructive, organized patterns, to explore difficult ideas and themes through discussion with classmates, led by experienced instructors. Class discussion will very likely test beliefs, pique curiosity, and shatter preconceptions.

Great Conversation students encounter great works of art including epics, plays, paintings, and novels, as well as philosophical, political, and religious documents. They become acquainted with works from Genesis to The Origin of Species, created by artists and thinkers from Plato to Jorge Luis Borges.

The Great Conversation is a program for those who like to read, discuss, and write about ideas. It is for those who believe that learning about the past is profoundly relevant to understanding the present, for those who want to examine globally important cultural traditions in a unified way, and for those who believe that an education ought to cultivate curiosity, empathy, creativity, and an ability to make connections across disciplines, historical eras, and worldviews.