What Can You Learn from Studying the Great Works?

If you’re looking for a college experience that will challenge you to think beyond one field of study—or even perhaps outside “fields of study” at all—it’s important to find a program that can truly stretch your creative and mental muscles. Studying the Great Works, which include the likes of Aristotle, Augustine, Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis, can help shape and mold you as a student and help you become a critical thinker in any field or pursuit you wish to follow. Here’s why these writings matter to you and your college experience.

What Are the Great Works?

Some of the greatest thinkers in history are names that most everyone has heard but few incoming freshmen (and adults, for that matter) have read. The roster of texts include works by Homer, Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Cicero, Dante Alighieri, Emily Dickinson, Thomas Aquinas, Teresa of Avila, Martin Luther, Frederick Douglass, Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and the scriptures of the Bible—among others. These collections of books, poems, stories, and works of theology and philosophy have been used throughout history to guide the essential foundation of human thought. They have influenced generation after generation, helping develop humans’ understanding about themselves and the world around them.

Dense stuff, right? But as you start your college experience, stepping out into the world after 18 or so years living at home, it’s quite possible that the big, existential questions popping into your head are the same ones addressed by these thinkers—which is why the Great Works are a critical learning tool.

Why Use Them?

The college experience should be both humbling and exhilarating. By using the Great Works as the foundation for shaping students’ worldviews, professors can help students engage with the timeless ideas that have been presented through the ages. In fact, the Honors College at Azusa Pacific University bases its curriculum around such works.

“The Honors College situates today’s generation of young people in the ongoing conversation about truth, which is the subject matter of the Great Works,” said Barbara Harrington, Ph.D., associate professor in the APU Honors College. “By equipping and encouraging our students to crack open and brood over the Great Works, we are truly setting them on the shoulders of giants.”

Lessons You’ll Learn

Can we really dwindle life’s biggest questions and takeaways into a few lessons? Of course not. But these works can help transform you into a great thinker with more expansive and understanding worldviews. After immersing yourself with the greatest thinkers of our time, you will walk away from APU’s Honors College program with a few fundamental truths:

  1. There is such a thing as truth.

  2. Truth is accessible to humans because we are both rational and spiritual beings.

  3. Life has a bigger purpose.

  4. A life without God is a life that quickly leads to isolation and meaninglessness.

How They Can Benefit Your College Experience

“Studying the Great Works in the Honors College offers students the unique opportunity to intentionally seek wisdom,” explained Harrington. By reading and engaging with the greatest writers of human history, you can become an articulate member of your own generation, both as a writer and speaker. You gain the ability to stand on your own and engage any problem through the lens of tried-and-true first principles.