Courses & Programs

Courses & Programs

Liberal Arts is a program dedicated to students who are not only keenly interested in human culture but who want to develop an understanding of the rich variety of ways that human beings express themselves. For this reason Liberal Arts is an interdisciplinary program, meaning that students take courses from a wide variety of academic disciplines. This interdisciplinarity does not, however, prevent a more specialized exploration, for the program is set up in such a way as to facilitate a student majoring in both Liberal Arts and in any other discipline. We have “double majors” in Liberal Arts combined with everything from Fine Art to Biology, from Music to Modern Languages.

There are six key areas to the program. On this page there is an introduction to each, follow the links to the University Calendar for the details:

1. The Foundation Courses

The Liberal Arts Foundation courses are designed to address some of the most pressing and important themes in Western civilization – love, beauty, our relationship with nature, empire and globalization, religion and the divine and the experience of freedom. Each is taught in a interdisciplinary and historical way so that students learn not only the present-day issues, but the breadth and depth of its emergence in our experience.

Liberal Arts Foundation Courses

Lib 210    Eros, Love and Desire
When Plato wrote that eros is “giving birth in beauty” he sparked a debate that has lasted millennia. Does the erotic lead us upwards toward wisdom, truth and love of thy neighbour? Or is eros the chaotic, anti-social and even destructive force of Dionysian rapture? This course will explore these and other classic theories of eros, love and desire.

Lib 211    Empire
“The sun never sets in my empire” said Spanish King Carlos I in the 16th century – a phrase then adopted by the British to signal not only the planetary breadth of their imperial achievement, but also the divine, solar blessing conferred on their conquests by God. What is this imperial aspiration – the desire to dominate? Why is Western history in a sense the history of Empire? This course will trace imperial aspirations from the Roman city-state, to the British nation-state to the eclipse of the state altogether by the modern capitalist corporation. Need we then wonder why the “World Trade Center” is at the heart of global conflict?

Lib 212    Let Justice Roll
“Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” So cried the prophet Amos, echoed thousands of years later when Martin Luther King insisted that, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice!” This course will explore the quest for justice in its many forms in Western history, from the Greek claim that justice is “doing good to one’s friends, harm to one’s enemies” to contemporary claims for the recognition of civil rights and social justice for the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians and other marginalized peoples.

Lib 213    The Abuse of Beauty
French writer Stendhal said in the 19th century that “beauty is the promise of happiness” and upon seeing the beauty of Florence he wondrously proclaimed, “I was in a sort of ecstasy…absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty…Everything spoke so vividly to my soul.” Yet only decades later his compatriot, poet Arthur Rimbaud, claimed that he wanted to “abuse” beauty, for he found her “bitter.” Dadaist and surrealist artist Tristan Tzara went even further, “I have a mad and starry desire to assassinate beauty…” Tzara signalled not only a dramatic change in Western art, but the claim that all forms of harmony and beauty, including the personal and the political, are conservative. This course will explore the fate of the beautiful, from the Greeks to 21st century life.

Lib 214    The Will To Mastery
The ecological crisis facing humanity today is not, German philosophy Martin Heidegger would claim, merely the product of recent economic productivity nor can we solve it with yet more technology. It is the product of a “will to mastery” that has obsessed our culture since the Greeks. Heidegger ominously warns that this “will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control.” This course will explore ideas for and against Heidegger’s claims and in so doing address the global ecological turning point we appear to face.

Lib 215    Ecstasy and Excess
“Joy is the most comprehensive mind…and it is from the summits of joy alone that each one will see the path to take.” American philosopher Alphonso Lingis claims here that humanity is the “ecstatic” species. In Greek the ek-static means literally to be outside, even beyond oneself – to transcend what and who one is. In the last few hundred years artists, writers, philosophers and others have claimed that ecstasy and excess are not merely temporary states, but the very condition of human life. This course will explore a variety of theories, from the biological to the philosophical, inspired by the idea that there is no “human nature” that we can’t exceed.

Lib216    Ultimate Concern
The divine is that about which we are “ultimately concerned” – so said theologian Paul Tillich of Union Seminary in New York. Is this just a last-ditch attempt to salvage faith and spirituality in the midst charges that religion is, at best, an “opiate of the masses” (Marx) and, at worst, “patently infantile” (Freud)? Or again, is the role of religion being taken over by its long time sister in spirit-art? This course will explore the troubled and passionate place of religiosity and the aesthetic in Western civilization.

2. The Culture Requirement

When you are enrolled in a foundation course you are required to attend any three (or more) cultural events. These include plays, musical performances, art shows, lectures and so on. Most nearly all of these are in Lennoxville, but each semester there is an opportunity to meet at least one of your requirements in Montreal. The key is not just to attend these events, but to meet with a small group of your colleagues for informal (yet often intense!) discussion afterwards.

3. The Senior Seminar

When you are in your last year at Bishop’s you will enroll in a small seminar class that will focus on an interdisciplinary theme and which is taught by two professors, each of whom is from a different discipline. This seminar provides an ideal opportunity to explore a topic in detail, and a convivial environment in which to wrap up your degree at Bishop’s.

4. The Core Curriculum and Breadth Requirements

The interdisciplinary character of the program is developed in the core curriculum and breadth requirements. The core curriculum proscribes a small list of courses, divided into three categories, from which you must choose three courses. These are introductory courses that provide a basis for more detailed study in each discipline. The breadth requirements spell out how many courses you must take from each area of study in the humanities, social sciences and other departments in the university. You are also required to develop basic competency in a second language of your choice.

5. Double Majors

As a Liberal Arts major you are encouraged, but certainly not required, to take an additional major (a “double major”) in some other discipline. The program is designed to make this as easy as possible, since some courses can count for the requirements of both majors at once. In this way you can achieve a broad background in human culture (through liberal arts) and a more specialized focus (through your second major).

6. Cultural Explorations in Nearby Cities

As a Liberal Arts major you will have the opportunity to enrich your learning by travelling with your colleagues to New York, Boston, Montreal and Toronto. We visit these cities for weekend trips (day-trips in the case of Montreal) in which we attend films, plays, musical performances and visit museums and other important cultural sites.

There are two such events each year. In the fall, first-year students spend a day getting to know each other and the cultural offerings of Montreal. During the winter, all Liberal Majors are invited to travel to New York, Boston or Toronto.