the Program

The Great Books Program consists of eight courses and serves as one of two general education “tracks” in the College of Liberal Arts. Both the School of Engineering and the Tift College of Education allow their students to use the Great Books Program as a means for meeting their general education requirements. Portions of the Great Books Program can be applied to general education requirements in the Eugene W. Stetson School of Business and Economics and the Townsend School of Music. The Great Books Program thus can provide both a ground and a goal for the specialized disciplines in which students major. Students in the College of Liberal Arts choosing the Great Books track for general education are required to take seven courses, the first three of which carry four credit hours as Writing Instruction courses; the remaining courses are three-hour courses. The fact that both GBK 101 and 202 may be used to satisfy components of the Integrative Program (the other general education track) allows a student to sample the Great Books curriculum before choosing between the two programs in general education. Any Great Books course may be taken for elective credit with permission from the director.

Great Books courses are all seminar-based with class sizes typically fewer than twenty. Classroom discussion is the heart of the Program (click here to read a lecture about discussion), although careful reading and reflective writing precede and follow discussion, respectively. The first seven courses in the sequence are organized chronologically. The strong emphasis in all courses is on foundational texts in the Western tradition and roughly eighty percent of the texts read are prescribed by consensus of the Program’s instructional staff. No textbooks are used, and the somewhat rare lectures only supplement the classroom discussions.

The sequence concludes in the mid-twentieth century. The eighth course in the sequence, a “preceptorial” and elective course, is an open format where non-Western classics, individual texts or authors, or primary texts illustrating particular themes or issues (including issues of race, class, or gender) may be explored. The faculty of the Program believes that careful study in the primary texts of Western thought and belief, guided by committed and rigorous instructors, is a valid means to a good general education.

Through this survey of political, religious, philosophical, and scientific thought, students can increase their skills in disciplined thinking and effective writing, can heighten their moral and ethical reflectiveness, and can understand how the seminal ideas of the past have formed our twentieth and twenty-first century selves. The approach is text-centered, student-focused, and writing-intensive. It trusts in the power of the classic text to communicate and in the power of discussion to sophisticate. Approximately a tenth of the Mercer student body chooses to participate. Our Great Books graduates are notably successful in graduate and professional studies and major in every discipline, including the natural sciences.

Instructors in the Program are volunteers drawn from almost every department in the College of Liberal Arts. Every new Great Books instructor is required first to team teach a section of the course with a veteran teacher in order to learn the distinctive pedagogy.