Great Books Curriculum

In our for-credit courses, students learn not just from our faculty, but primarily through the Great Teachers who spoke eternal truth in their literature, philosophy, music, art, and poetry. Over recent decades many college students have been offered a curriculum informed by the so-called Great Books; we like to believe that what we offer is something more. We hold that the best that the human mind has felt, thought, and dreamt is not limited to a checklist of books but is in the songs we sing, the canvas we adorn, and the buildings we construct.  We call it the Great Tradition.


Why Great Books?

In a well-known essay on the Great Books, Frederick Wilhelmsen posed the question whether the Great Books were the Enemies of Wisdom? And as he went on to demonstrate, the mere reading of a list does not make a student wise or virtuous. The Great Books, like great teachers, raise eternal questions and seek real Truth. A Great Books curriculum that conflates the means with the end, by replacing the completion of a list of books with the search for truth, does a disservice both to the great authors we read and, more importantly, to the students who have come in search of wisdom. We believe the following list of Great Books exist at the service of the student's path to the eternal Wisdom glimpsed in part by Plato, Homer, Vergil, Cicero, St. Augustine, Boethius, Cervantes, Shakespeare and many others. The following books, poems, and art exist to awaken in students a desire for the eternal Wisdom that Dante once described as "the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars."


Our Great Books Core

The following list is in no ways the whole of what is read these course but the following books constitute the "core" around which our other readings and discussions center:

The Catholic Imagination

  • St. Augustine Confessions
  • The Song of Roland
  • Dante Comedy
  • Chaucer Canterbury Tales
  • Shakespeare, King Lear Hamlet
  • Dostoevsky The Brothers Karamazov

The Western Canon

  • Homer Iliad -or- Odyssey
  • Vergil Aeneid
  • Cervantes Don Quixote
  • Shakespeare Macbeth
  • Milton Paradise Lost

Individual & Society in WEstern Literature

  • Aeschylus Oresteia
  • Sophocles Theban Cycle
  • Aristophanes Frogs
  • Cicero On Friendship
  • Shakespeare Othello Much Ado About Nothing
  • Dickens Hard Times
  • Ibsen Peer Gynt

Foundations of WEstern Thought

  • Plato Apology, Crito, Republic
  • Aristophanes Clouds
  • Cicero On Duties
  • Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy
  • Machiavelli The Prince
  • St. Thomas More Utopia
  • Shakespeare The Tempest
  • Jane Austen ense & Sensibility

A Heart Alive with Poetry

Today, the rapid composition and disposal of essays have become the standard punching of the clock in the college classroom. While we believe there is merit to the production of a well-crafted essay as a means to engage with the texts and tradition of the Humanities, we also believe that the memorization and retention of that poem in our heart is another way to acquaint students with the best that has been said and thought.

The following is not an exhaustive list of the poetry, Scripture, and songs our students memorize but represent those favorites which current and former students love to recite any time we gather:

  • The Bible, "John 1:1-14", "Psalm 23"
  • William Blake "The Tyger", "Jerusalem"
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning "Sonnet XIV"
  • Robert Burns "A Red, Red Rose"
  • George Gordon Byron "She Walks in Beauty"
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge "Kubla Khan"
  • Emily Dickinson "It was not Death", "Because I could not stop for Death"
  • John Donne, "Holy Sonnet X", "Holy Sonnet XIV"
  • Robert Frost "Fire and Ice", "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
  • Thomas Hardy "The Sundial on a Wet Day"
  • Robert Herrick "To Keep a True Lent"
  • Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins "Pied Beauty", "God's Grandeur"
  • A.E. Housman "When I was One and Twenty", "Loveliest of Trees"
  • John Keats "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"
  • William Shakespeare "St. Crispin's Day Speech", "Full Fathom Five", Sonnet 116
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley "Ozymandias"
  • St. Robert Southwell "The Burning Babe"
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson "Crossing the Bar"
  • William Wordsworth "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge"

A Curriculum Infused with Great Books

In pursuit of a certification in Catholic Studies, a student may take various other courses with us at the St. Lawrence Institute for Faith and Culture. 

Sacred Scripture

  • The Bible
  • Church Fathers
  • St. Thomas Aquinas Summae Theologiae [selections]
  • Pope Paul VI Dei Verbum


  • Aristotle's Rhetoric
  • Shakespeare Julius Caesar
  • Edmund Burke [select speeches]
  • Abraham Lincoln [select speeches]
  • Winston Church [select speeches]

Introduction to Ethics

  • Plato Gorgias
  • Aristotle Nicomachean Ethics

Foundations of Theology

  • St. Augustine
  • St. Bonaventure
  • St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae

Beyond the Great Books...

In our courses and through cultural outings, we also invite students to explore the music, art, and architecture that form the Great Tradition. The University of Kansas is home to the first-class Spencer Museum of Art. And the Nelson-Atkins Museum is a short drive away. And in addition to supporting the plays, opera performances, and concerts produced here at the university, students also enjoy outings to all the performing and musical art productions that Kansas City has to offer.


We also work with local artists and artisans to provide students experiences that invite students to explore ways in which they move from being consumers of culture to become its producers. In the past, for example, students have made their own ink for calligraphy, visited local bakers to learn the art of baking bread, pickled their own vegetables, and visited with a local iconographer.