Concordia University

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What are the liberal arts?

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Liberal Arts College is the product of the Great Books movement, which began in 1921 at Columbia University in New York City and continued to grow into the 1960s; however, the idea of a liberal arts education is an ancient one.

In Classical civilization, the liberal arts formed the basic curriculum appropriate for the training of free men. Adopted by medieval universities, the seven liberal arts were divided into two groups: the trivium consisting of grammar, logic and rhetoric and the quadrivium comprising arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

During the Renaissance, the term liberal arts was used more broadly to designate all of those studies that impart a general education, as distinct from vocational or specialized training. The Renaissance curriculum was based on the affirmation that the study of ‘humane letters’, the studia humanitatis (defined today as history, the humanities, science and social sciences) perfected the individual morally and intellectually and prepared him for civic life.

About our emblem – The Owl of Minerva

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The choice was inspired by the great nineteenth century philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. At the end of a famous passage in his Philosophy of Right, Hegel compares philosophy, or perhaps the philosopher's role, to the owl of Minerva, which “... spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom. Her emblem was the owl and she assumed many of the attributes of the Greek goddess Athena, notably her skill in the arts of life.

For Hegel as for the Greeks, the wisdom of philosophy—and philosophers are lovers of wisdom—can come only late in the day: that is, at the end of a historical or personal development. It is fitting, then, that there should be a time and place in which we as human beings make it a priority to understand the world and ourselves through the study of the great works of philosophy, literature, history, art, music, poetry, science and religion that have shaped Western civilization and culture. These works constitute the basis of the Liberal Arts College's curriculum.

For the LAC, the serious study of the great works of the past prepares us for a richer life by illuminating what it has meant, and can mean, to be human. It is this pursuit, this self-knowledge, which is the goal of all true education.



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