The Development of Western Civilization (DWC) program is the centerpiece of Providence College’s Core Curriculum. (A link to the College’s Core Curriculum website appears at the end of this document.)
DWC is a four-semester, team-taught excursion into the ideas, events, and people who have shaped Western Civilization. When it was first introduced in 1971, it was the only program of its kind in the nation. Four decades later, the DWC Program has been revitalized in ways that will develop active, engaged learners, well-prepared to succeed in the 21st century. Anchored in tradition, the revitalized DWC remains unique among core curricula in higher education in terms of its intellectual goals, structure, and pedagogy.
The revitalized DWC is a four semester, 16-credit course taken in the freshman and sophomore years, organized around seminar-style classes. It is taught by a team of three faculty members, covering the Ancient, Medieval, and Modern periods of Western Civilization in the first three semesters, followed by a team-taught colloquium in the fourth semester focusing on a contemporary issue in the context of the Western tradition. To accomplish its goals, the seminar size has been reduced from 22 students to 15-18.
DWC epitomizes interdisciplinary, team-teaching in an intimate environment. Faculty teaching in the program are committed to interdisciplinary inquiry and are experienced in collaborative pedagogy. Students are not only exposed in interdisciplinary approaches to enduring questions of Western Civilization, they are asked to speak and write with interdisciplinarity.
The first three semesters of the Development of Western Civilization Program consist of a seminar-style encounter with significant texts from western and other world civilizations. These three semesters are four credits each and are arranged chronologically, with the first semester dedicated to works from Antiquity, the second semester dedicated to works from the Medieval and Early Modern period, and the third semester dedicated to works from the Modern period.
These team-taught classes engage students in contemplation of significant works in their historical and cultural contexts, with special attention, when appropriate, to philosophical and theological concerns.
The fourth semester of the Development of Western Civilization Program consists of a team-taught, four-credit colloquium. Students choose from a variety of colloquia according to their interests. Building upon the first three semesters, the advanced colloquium focuses on a specific, contemporary issue in the context of the western tradition. Colloquia seek to extend the interdisciplinary approach beyond the humanities, e.g., natural science, social science, education, and business, as well as seeking to relate western history and culture to the histories and cultures beyond the West.
The Goals of the Program
In requiring two years of intensive, interdisciplinary study of Western Civilization for all students regardless of their concentrations or professional goals, Providence College charts an ambitious path and sets a demanding academic standard. There are two main goals that the College aims to achieve.
The first is to foster the intellectual development of students as individuals. We believe that college should provide students the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of both their world and themselves. The study of Western Civilization, in its moments of majesty and madness, glory and shame, provides a key to self-understanding, for this civilization has been largely responsible for shaping who and what we are, both in our social and in our more deeply personal selves. Tertullian long ago posed the famous question, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” We ask students to confront with honesty similar questions: What do Aristotle and Aquinas, Kant and Kafka, Darwin and Dostoevsky, Sartre and Solzhenitsyn have to do with us or say to us? By acquiring an understanding of the development of Western Civilization, students acquire a richer appreciation of the perennial questions that we all must ask even as we grow into the future.
Intellectual growth entails the development of academic skills. The program requires rigorous discipline from students in their first two years of college. Effective reading and writing and thinking; analysis and synthesis of information and concepts; and understanding of key events, ideas, and forces that have shaped the Western world all contribute to the education Providence College seeks to provide. By acquiring an understanding of the development of Western Civilization, students acquire a basis for understanding themselves and shaping their future. They also acquire a basis for understanding other cultures and respecting their autonomous development. At a time when critics often decry the decline in higher education of fundamental knowledge and thought, Providence College continues in this program to stress students’ growth in understanding issues essential to an education in the humanities.
The second goal of the program is to provide students with a basis for further study. The widespread fragmentation in higher education indicates that the complex reality of the civilization we seek to understand cannot be encompassed by any single discipline. The complementary perspectives of several disciplines working together and learning from one another offer a more complete and critical way of exploring major issues.
Consequently, the faculty members who teach together as a team instructing a Western Civilization section not only impart the knowledge of their own discipline; they also link this knowledge to the other disciplines in order to examine the common questions, issues, and patterns of thought characteristic of particular times and places in the history of Western Civilization. Individual instructors may, of course, advance their own views, but the program as a whole does presuppose a view that history is providential, not merely sequential or meaningless.
Honors Western Civilization and Colloquia
The Development of Western Civilization is also at the core of the Honors curriculum—a four-course interdisciplinary study of history, literature, philosophy, theology, art and music from ancient Mesopotamia to the 21st century. All Honors Western Civilization courses are team-taught by faculty drawn from various departments. Each faculty team develops its own particular syllabus (and thus topics and readings vary from semester to semester), but the following list of topics provide a sampling of the content and range of the four courses.
Honors DWC I: Mesopotamia and Egypt, Epic of Gilgamesh, Hebrew Bible, Homer, Sappho, Persian Empire, Greek Art and Architecture, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Epicurus, Stoicism, Alexander the Great, Hellenistic Art, Mystery Religions, Roman Republic and Empire, Julius Caesar, Augustus, Catullus, Virgil, Ovid, Petronius, Roman Art and Architecture, New Testament, Plotinus, Constantine the Great, Christological Controversies, St. Augustine, Monasticism, Decline of the Roman Empire
Honors DWC II: Rise of Islam, Koran, Avicenna, Averroes, Byzantium, Maimonides, Charlemagne, Song of Roland, Crusades, Anselm, Marie de France, Hildegard of Bingen, Andreas Capellanus, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Medieval Art and Music, Dante, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Petrarch, Renaissance Florence, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Marguerite of Navarre, Teresa of Avila, Erasmus, Henry VIII, Thomas More, Luther, Calvin, Council of Trent, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Galileo, Cervantes, Hobbes, Locke, Milton, Baroque Art
Honors DWC III: Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, Descartes, Newton, Absolutism and Louis XIV, Pascal, Voltaire, Rousseau, Aphra Behn, Swift, Ben Franklin, Neoclassical Art and Music, Agricultural Revolution, Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade, Olaudah Equiano, French Revolution, Napoleon, Mary Wollstonecraft, Romanticism, Goethe, Wordsworth, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Jane Austen, Flaubert, Dickens, Industrial Revolution, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Karl Marx, Darwin, Emily Dickinson, Newman
Honors DWC IV: Modern Capitalism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Tolstoy, Conrad, Vatican I, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Kafka, World War I, Vera Brittain, T. S. Eliot, Yeats, Freud, Karl Barth, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Cubism, Einstein, World War II, Elie Wiesel, Bonhoeffer, Camus, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Solzhenitsyn, Jacque Maritain, Vatican II, Africa and Decolonization, Chinua Achebe, Jazz, Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Vietnam War, Borges, Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Cynthia Ozick, Pope John Paul II, Contemporary Islam, Naguib Mahfouz, Postmodernism
Honors Colloquia: All Honors students take at least one capstone colloquium in the junior or senior year. Topics vary each semester, and new topics are offered regularly. In recent years the following colloquium courses have been offered: Dante, Islamic Art and Architecture, The Buddha and the Christ, Greek and Roman Mythology, Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, T. S. Eliot, Tolkien, Science and Religion, Coming of Age in Fiction and Film, Flannery O’Connor, Beauty and Violence, Gender and Race in America, Christianity and Islam, The Christian Intellectual Tradition, Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science, Literature of Spiritual Crisis