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Mission Statement

Great Books, Great Conversations

As part of their liberal education, all students in the Honors College at the University of Houston take a two-semester course called "The Human Situation" during their freshman year. In this course we begin the study of our cultural heritage by examining texts from the Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic cultures of antiquity. The modern world is deeply rooted in these cultures, and they were themselves inspired and shaped by Homer's epic poems; by Platonic philosophy; and by the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an. These key texts, or "classics," present compelling, if not always harmonious, insights into human situations: the excellences proper to human beings; the character of the human soul; one's relations to family, friends, lovers, strangers, and the gods or God. The greatest thinkers of antiquity concerned themselves with the elaboration, criticism, and reconciliation of these powerful insights, and in doing so they took up once again the intriguing question of how to live one's life. The result of their efforts is a shared and open conversation concerning the most important matters for human beings. The "Antiquity" semester of Human Situation also features a writing program comprising lectures, labs, and customized materials, as well as peer tutor and faculty support. The program aims to elevate both the stylistic and critical facets of students' writing to the high level appropriate to Honors classes.

In the second semester, "Modernity," we continue our study and interpretation of these cultural traditions. Guided by careful readings of what others have written, we attempt to discover our own ideas and commitments by speaking and writing about these texts. By reading, speaking, and writing we learn to develop and refine our participation in the great conversation. Many topics naturally emerge as important to our reflection on the texts in the "Modernity" course. Recently we paid particular attention to the concept of maturation; other examples of the recurring focus of a Human Situation semester are prophecy, liberty, virtue and the gods (or God), the journey within, self and soul, the laws and the Law. The reading list varies from year to year and is necessarily selective. The omission of certain important writings of antiquity or modernity during a semester does not imply they are not equally worthy of attention. Rather, this omission is a reminder that reading and conversation — our continuing pursuit of a liberal education — do not come to a close with the final examination.

Official Learning Outcomes: 

  • Students will develop their critical reasoning in reading, discussing and writing on a variety of classic texts.

  • Students will become familiar with some of the central philosophical, political, historical, and scientific issues that have dominated the history of Western thinking.

  • Students will enhance their communication skills through intensive small-group discussions and oral examination finals.