Theology, philosophy, and the core curriculum

Notre Dame is one of an ever decreasing number of major universities with a substantial core curriculum. And one of even fewer who require both philosophy and theology as a part of this core. Notre Dame professors and students talked about these requirements with the Rover, discussing their changes over time, benefits and shortcomings, and contribution to the Catholic nature of the university.

All Notre Dame students must take two introductory theology courses, including one “Foundations” course. All “Foundations” courses act as “an introduction to the Catholic faith as a coherent whole arising from Scripture and Tradition as received by the Church.”

Additionally, students must take an introductory philosophy course and either a second philosophy course or a class which satisfies the “Catholicism And the Disciplines” requirement. Rover managing editor Elizabeth Self recently wrote an editorial on the importance of theology and philosophy to the core curriculum and the dedication of the faculty who teach introductory courses in these departments. She also discussed how Notre Dame’s core curriculum enhances every academic specialty and prepares students for all kinds of careers.

Timothy Matovina, who serves as chair of the theology department, said: “When you read theological documents and when you read Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic [constitution] of John Paul II on Catholic higher education, one of the most important parts of the core is the integration of knowledge, which is based on the premise that truth cannot contradict truth.”

He continued: “Therefore, all the disciplines in a Catholic liberal arts education have a vital role to play, from the sciences to literature to history to the arts and more, and of course including philosophy and theology.”

This integrative vision is shared by Wiley Family College Professor of Philosophy and Director of Notre Dame Institute of Advanced Study Meghan Sullivan, who proposed an inherent connection between theology and philosophy in an email exchange with the Rover, saying: “Why does Notre Dame want everyone to learn philosophy? The heart of it comes from our faith, and in particular the view that a central dimension of human life is wondering about the answers to philosophical questions.”

One popular way to explore such questions is an introductory philosophy class entitled “God and the Good Life,” which Sullivan teaches.

Max Minicus, a senior majoring in philosophy and mathematics, told the Rover via email, “[God and the Good Life] moved way too quickly, but it gave us a survey of the big names.” He concluded, “Regardless of your major, studying the great texts of philosophy can place your entire education in context.”

The introductory philosophy and theology classes have undergone changes in recent years. Professor Matovina noted that, when he arrived at Notre Dame, the second required theology course was known as “Doctrine in Development,” which “would take a particular doctrine of the Catholic faith … and see how it’s been taught and how it’s been articulated down through the years.”

Currently, Matovina explained, students may also take ‘Doctrine in Dialogue’ courses, some of which, he said, “now deal with questions like theology and science or theology and another religion … The focus is [now] more on the dialogue.”

On the question of the recent history of these courses, professor of history Fr. Bill Miscamble C.S.C. also shared in an interview with the Rover that the current theology and philosophy requirements “had to be fought for at the time of the last curriculum review,” which ended in late 2016.

Miscamble asserted that “Notre Dame should provide all of its students with the kind of education that an adult educated Catholic should have … We want to fashion our own distinct educational program for our students, and our goal is to provide them with a genuine, Catholic education.”

Miscamble has shared his thoughts on Notre Dame’s core curriculum with the Rover previously, writing, “The theology and philosophy departments must collaborate with departments in the humanities and social sciences to fashion core courses” so that each student is exposed to influential authors and Church documents.

Miscamble attested that “the great distinction of Notre Dame should be that we are providing an education for the whole student, for mind, and heart, and soul.” He concluded, “all departments have a role to play in this endeavor.”

Kathryn Bowers is a freshman at Notre Dame. Email her at to learn about Notre Dame’s Right to Life Club (including the formal at the end of the year).

Photo credit: “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes”, University of Notre Dame Office of Public Affairs and Communications