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 or sophomore 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.

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; in a recent semester we paid particular attention to the concept of authority. Questions of authority often lead us to take up again questions about the body and the soul; about families, communities of faith, and political congregations; about violence, suppression, and punishment; about the individual and society; about the king and the prophet, about the laws and the Law; about the gods and God.

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.