Location: Moore Hall 101
The Development of Western Civilization Program, inaugurated in 1971-72, is the core of the general education curriculum at Providence College. During the freshman and sophomore years, all students are required to enroll in a two-year sequence of courses in the Development of Western Civilization. Instructed by a team of faculty drawn from the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, and theology, students attend classes four or five days a week, earning five credits each semester for a total of 20 credits.
Two ordering principles provide the structure of the course. The first is chronology. Over two years of study, students examine the major developments that have shaped Western Civilization from its beginnings in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, and Greece, at the start of the first semester of the freshman year, to the current trends and developments marking the contemporary Western world, toward the end of the second semester of the sophomore year.
The chronological approach is deepened by the second principle: interdisciplinary study. The interdisciplinary structure of the course means that all of the four major fields of study, together with the fine arts, are examined in relation to the larger developments of each time period. In exploring ancient Greek civilization, for instance, students consider the polis or city-state as the key political unit of Greek life, then link the polis of Athens to their reading of such Greek tragedies as Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and then link these historical and literary developments to the thought of the Athenian philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Similarly, in the second-year course, students examine World War I and its aftermath as the historical framework for the religious thought of Karl Barth, the literature of Kafka, the philosophy of logical positivism, and the pervasive metaphor of the wasteland. Thus chronology is never allowed to be mere chronicling, and fundamental ordering themes are stressed.
The Goals of the Program
In requiring two years of intensive, interdisciplinary study of Western Civilization for all students regardless of their concentrations or professional goals, Providence College charts an ambitious path and sets a demanding academic standard. There are two main goals that the College aims to achieve.
The first is to foster the intellectual development of students as individuals. We believe that college should provide students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of both their world and themselves. The study of Western Civilization, in its moments of majesty and madness, glory and shame, provides a key to self-understanding, for this civilization has been largely responsible for shaping who and what we are, both in our social and in our more deeply personal selves. Tertullian long ago posed the famous question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” We ask students to confront with honesty similar questions:What do Aristotle and Aquinas, Kant and Kafka, Darwin and Dostoevski, Sartre and Solzhenitsyn have to do with us or say to us? By acquiring an understanding of the development of Western Civilization students acquire a richer appreciation of the perennial questions that we all must ask even as we grow into the future.
Intellectual growth entails the development of academic skills. The program requires rigorous discipline from students in their first two years of college. Effective reading and writing and thinking; analysis and synthesis of information and concepts; and understanding of key events, ideas, and forces that have shaped the Western world all contribute to the education Providence College seeks to provide. By acquiring an understanding of the development of Western Civilization, students acquire a basis for understanding themselves and shaping their future. They also acquire a basis for understanding other cultures and respecting their autonomous development. At a time when critics often decry the decline in higher education of fundamental knowledge and thought, Providence College continues in this program to stress students’ growth in understanding issues essential to an education in the humanities.
The second goal of the program is to provide students with a basis for further study. The widespread fragmentation in higher education indicates that the complex reality of the civilization we seek to understand cannot be encompassed by any single discipline. The complementary perspectives of several disciplines working together and learning from one another offer a more complete and critical way of exploring major issues.
Consequently, the faculty members who teach together as a team instructing a Western Civilization section not only impart the knowledge of their own discipline; they also link this knowledge to the other disciplines in order to examine the common questions, issues, and patterns of thought characteristic of particular times and places in the history of Western Civilization. Individual instructors may, of course, advance their own views, but the program as a whole does presuppose a view that history is providential, not merely sequential or meaningless.