Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts & Ideas
College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin
The Jefferson Center is unique among the University of Texas at Austin’s myriad departments and centers. Our focus is not an academic discipline, a region, a time period, or any specialized body of knowledge in which we train graduate students and undergraduate majors; nor is it applied knowledge aimed at some particular vocation. Our mission is rather to counter the modern university’s drift towards fragmentation and specialization by creating a locus of sustained dialogue about questions of enduring significance and providing new ways for undergraduates to integrate their studies.
Overview of Our Programs
The Certificate Program in Core Texts and Ideas, our recommended program for undergraduates, is an introduction to the liberal arts through the study of the great books. It complements any major with an integrated sequence of six courses that can also satisfy UT general education requirements. Four fundamental courses will introduce students to major works of religion, literature, philosophy, and political thought in the west from ancient to modern times. Electives cover more specialized topics, such as ancient Indian thought, Shakespeare, and Darwin. In all of these courses students will enter into debates about human nature, ethics, and the meaning of life that have unfolded over centuries and that have profoundly shaped the modern world.
The Jefferson Scholars Program allows freshmen to begin the CTI program in small courses and an integrated learning community.
Students interested in constructing an interdisciplinary major in the great books are encouraged to consider the Humanities Major, an interdisciplinary program for honors students in the College of Liberal Arts. One option within this program, “Core Texts and Ideas,” allows students to find their own focus within the extensive array of great books courses we offer.
In addition to these academic programs, the Jefferson Center sponsors an ongoing lecture series, an executive seminar series for local professionals and community leaders, a student book club, teaching assistantships for graduate students, discussion sections for large lecture courses through the Teaching Center’s Supplemental Instruction program, the Jefferson Junior Fellows Program for undergraduates, and the Jefferson Society of Postdoctoral Fellows, a teaching fellowship program for young scholars committed to the interdisciplinary teaching of the great books.
What is a Core Text?
The texts we study include major works of philosophy, religion, history, and literature; seminal writings in the sciences and social sciences; works of art; and major political documents and speeches. They are works distinguished both by their depth of insight or creative originality and by their influence on subsequent thought or history. These texts are not the possession of any single nation, epoch, cultural tradition, or academic department. Each of them is, as Thucydides boldly but justly called his own work, “a possession for all time.” Each of them has proved to be, like Jefferson himself, profoundly influential, inspiring, subtle, multi-faceted, and challenging to decipher. Each has provoked opposing interpretations and conflicting assessments. Not in spite of but because of these challenges and controversies, these texts reward the closest study and generate especially fruitful discussion and reflection about the meaning of human life.