Great Books. Great Conversations.

Program Description

The Masterworks Program at Christ College, co-sponsored by Valparaiso University’s interdisciplinary honors college as well as the Graduate School, offers continuing education opportunities for members of the larger Valparaiso community.

The program consists of a two-semester sequence of courses in the “Great Books” tradition, pioneered at places such as the University of Chicago and Columbia University. Upon completion of this two-semester sequence, students will earn a certificate from Christ College and will be invited to take part in topics seminars that focus on particular authors or themes, such as Jane Austen or modern poetry. Classes meet weekly for 1.5 hours; students may earn continuing-education or graduate credit, or they may enroll simply for personal enrichment.

Regardless of participants’ individual goals and motivations, this program offers intellectual engagement and lively discussions in the tradition of Christ College’s intimate seminars. We hope you’ll consider joining and contributing to this dynamic community, built around great books and great conversations.

Masterworks Courses

Please Note: Masterworks courses need not be taken in sequence; participants are welcome to join the program in either the fall or the spring semester.

What is a good life? The first course in a two-semester sequence, Masterworks I examines classic works of Western civilization from the ancient Greeks through Shakespeare to reflect on this central question.

A discussion-based seminar, the class will consider how great literary works have engaged enduring issues. As we explore the thought and art of Plato, Aeschylus, Chaucer, and Shakespeare, we will also examine our own beliefs and assumptions about the individual and community; the importance of faith, ritual, and tradition; and the role of creativity and imagination in the pursuit of a good life.

The course, which meets weekly for one and a half hours, is available as a non-credit option or may be taken for 1.5 graduate credits. Those taking the course for graduate credit will be assessed on the basis of their participation, engagement, and final paper.

Schedule (subject to revision)

Our first unit explores rich texts of the ancient world, centering on the city of Athens and the literary and philosophical traditions to which it gave birth.

Week 1 — Introduction; Beginning discussion of Athens, Plato, and the Apology

Week 2 — Plato, Apology

Week 3 — Plato, Crito, Phaedo

Week 4 — Aeschylus, Oresteia (Agamemnon)

Week 5 — Aeschylus, Oresteia (The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides)

Our second unit investigates the transition from pagan to Christian culture within the medieval European world.

Week 6 — Beowulf

Week 7 — Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Week 8 — Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Our final unit in the semester turns to a moment of vibrant cultural rebirth — the Renaissance — by exploring texts whose legacies in political philosophy and drama endure to this day.

Week 9 — Machiavelli, The Prince

Week 10 — Machiavelli, The Prince

Week 11 — Shakespeare, The Tempest

Week 12 — Shakespeare, The Tempest

Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates. Trans. GMA Grube. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2001. ISBN-978-0872205543.

Aeschylus. Aeschylus II: The Oresteia (Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides, Proteus [Fragments]). Eds. David Grene, Richmond Lattimore, Mark Griffith, and Glenn W. Most. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN – 978-0226311470. (Note: this is the third edition.)

Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN- 978-0393320978.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Trans. David Wright. New York: Oxford, 2011. ISBN-978-0199599028.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN- 978-0226500447.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Peter Holland. New York: Penguin, 1999. ISBN- 978-0140714852.

The second course in a two-semester sequence, Masterworks II continues to explore the question of a “good life” through major literary works of the Western tradition. Spanning the last four centuries, the course begins with Shakespeare’s Macbeth and moves through a series of classic authors including Jane Austen, Frederick Douglass, and Virginia Woolf.

Throughout these readings, we will consider how the search for a good and meaningful life changes and is challenged by our experience in the modern world, focusing primarily on the rise of the individual from the Renaissance onward. What does it mean to be human in this modern and rapidly shifting world? And how do we develop ourselves as individuals and members of communities even as traditional societies, norms, and values are constantly changing? These are just some of the many questions these powerful works will address and prompt us to consider and discuss.

The course, which meets weekly for one and a half hours, is available as a non-credit option or may be taken for 1.5 graduate credits. Those taking the course for graduate credit will be assessed on the basis of their participation, engagement, and final paper.

Early in our semester, this class will have the opportunity to attend a performance of Macbeth during Christ College’s “Shakespeare Week,” which features the renowned Actors from the London Stage.

Note: new and continuing Masterworks participants are welcome to join this class! You do not have to take Masterworks I before enrolling in Masterworks II.

Schedule (subject to revision)

Week 1 — Introduction; William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Week 2 — William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Week 3 — Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography

Week 4 — Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life

Week 5 — Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life

~ Spring Break ~

Week 6 — Jane Austen, Persuasion

Week 7 — Jane Austen, Persuasion

Week 8 — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Week 9 — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Week 10 — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Week 11 — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Week 12 — Flannery O’Connor, selected short stories

Shakespeare, William.  Macbeth.  Ed. Stephen Orgel.  New York: Penguin, 2000.  ISBN: 978-0140714784.

Franklin, Benjamin.  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  New York: Dover Thrift, 1996.  ISBN: 978-0486290737.

Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  New York: Dover Thrift, 1995.  ISBN:  978-0486284996.

Austen, Jane.  Persuasion.  New York: Oxford, 2008.  ISBN: 978-0199535552.

Woolf, Virginia.  A Room of One’s Own.  New York: Harvest (Harcourt), 2005.  ISBN: 978-0156030410.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott.  The Great Gatsby.  New York: Scribner, 2004. ISBN: 978-0743273565.

O’Connor, Flannery.  The Complete Stories.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  ISBN: 978-0374515362.

Meets Saturdays 10:45am-12:15pm with Professor Elias Crim

The Divine Comedy, Dante’s great three-part masterpiece of medieval literature, is a kind of traveller’s guidebook, not only to the landscapes of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven but to an extraordinary cast of characters, creatures and spirits from all levels of 13th century Italian life.

In this class, we’ll also explore all three kingdoms, as well as discussing topics such as the medieval world view, the politics of Dante’s time, the medieval Church, the role of the arts, and more. But we will approach the Comedy primarily as a work of art, especially for its unequaled poetic power and immediacy that have influenced countless later artists, musicians, poets, novelists and filmmakers.

Schedule (subject to revision)

Week 1 (September 5)—Inferno, Canto 1

Week 2 (September 12)—Inferno, Cantos 2-4

Week 3 (September 19)—Inferno, Cantos 5, 10, 15

Week 4 (September 26)—Inferno, Cantos 19, 20, 26

Week 5 (October 3)—Inferno, Cantos 28, 33, 34

Week 6 (October 10)—Purgatorio, Cantos 1-3

Week 7 (October 17)—Purgatorio, Cantos 5-7

Week 8 (October 24)—Purgatorio, Cantos 9, 11, 21, 22

Week 9 (October 31)—Purgatorio, Cantos 28, 29, 32, 33

Week 10 (November 7)—Paradiso, Cantos 1, 3, 11

Week 11 (November 14)—Paradiso, Cantos 15, 17, 23

Week 12 (November 21)—Paradiso, Cantos 31, 32, 33

Dante. Inferno. Trans. Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library Classics, 2004. ISBN-13: 978-0345483577

Dante. Purgatorio. Trans. Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library Classics, 2005. ISBN-13: 978-0812971255

Dante. Paradiso. Trans. Anthony Esolen. New York: Modern Library Classics, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0812977264



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Registration and Fees

For those interested in personal enrichment or the continuing education option (which awards (CEUs), continuing education units), a single course costs $295, and both courses may be taken for $495. For those interested in pursuing a course for graduate credit, the course price is determined by the graduate school’s set rate.

  Registration Form »


For more information email the program coordinator.

Fall 2015 Schedule

This fall interested community members have the opportunity to sign up for the “Masterworks I” course (which surveys great texts from ancient Greece to the Renaissance) or a special seminar on Dante (which will consider all three portions of his epic Divine Comedy).

There are two available sections of “Masterworks I”

  • Wednesday evenings from 6-7:30 pm
  • Saturday mornings from 9-10:30 am

“Masterworks: Dante's Divine Comedy” meets on Saturday mornings from 10:45am-12:15pm

New and continuing Masterworks participants are welcome to take part in either or both of these classes. Ideally, participants will enroll in Masterworks I and II before participating in [or while concurrently taking] a topics seminar, but we understand that this arrangement may not work for everyone.

In addition to these weekly class meetings, Masterworks participants are invited to attend the Christ College Symposia.