Current Course Offerings

Humanities classes often fulfill Core Requirements. Check out the attributes below to see how you can walk through your Core with us!

Spring 2018 Courses


HUM 2001–001

Dr. Kevin Hughes

M/W 3:00–4:15 pm


The Christian tradition has long held that “God is love.” In this course we seek to understand what Christian claims about God mean, what they imply, and whether they are well founded. As we inquire into the nature of divine life, we will also consider what talking about God reveals about the nature of human life.

The course begins by considering modern critiques of religion that help us understand our own uses and abuses of religion. We then inquire whether it is responsible to love and believe in a Christian God. In doing so, we must consider the possibility that God reveals Himself precisely to help us know and love God. After investigating claims about revelation, we turn to theological questions that arise out of the experience of having a relationship with God. We conclude with a dramatic investigation of the major themes of the course.  


HUM 2003–001

Dr. Mark Shiffman

M/W 1:30–2:45 pm

Attributes: CST, ENVA, PHI, WREN

The way we look at and understand the natural world affects the way we think about ourselves, and vice versa. In this class, we will consider the conceptions of the world most common today, discuss their origins, examine their presuppositions, and think through their implications both for our relationship toward the world and also for our understanding of what it means to be a human being. Among the topics we will cover are: how we experience, observe and conceptualize the world; what it means to give a causal explanation; what it means to speak of God as creator and why one would do so; the relationship between science, philosophy, and religion; and the meaning of the human person and social order in relation to the world.


HUM 2004–001

Dr. Eugene McCarraher

T/Th 11:30 am–12:45 pm

Attributes: P&J, PSC, WREN

We live in a time when political, economic, and family life compete to occupy our horizon of concerns. Our culture is often cynical about the possibility of finding meaning in these fundamental aspects of human society. But is that right? How well does the modern view of society as a contract amongst consenting individuals really work? What insights can we glean from a more ancient understanding of society as a fulfillment of human nature? Does society help or impede our quest to find truth or to become our best selves? To truly understand the human person, it is essential to think hard about our relationship to society. To do so we will take up  Hobbes, Locke, Becker, Dostoyevsky, Adam Smith, Aristotle, de Tocqueville, Austen, Augustine, Nietzsche, and More. 


HUM 2002–001

Dr. Helena Tomko

T/Th 10:00–11:15 am

Attributes: ENG, P&J, WREN

It has been said that a crisis in humanism—an insufficient understanding of the human person—underlay the manifold political, social, and historical tragedies of the twentieth century and their ongoing repercussions. In this course, we will attempt to engage the major questions confronting us in the twentieth-first century by examining fundamental aspects of the human experience, from birth through death, and considering how to pursue the good in the dramatic unfolding of human life. We will consider together the manifold strange wonders that make us human, including food, family, friendship, education, work, and love. 


HUM 1975–001

Dr. Helena Tomko

T/Th 1:00–2:15 pm

Attributes: CLAWS, ENG

An “epiphany” is a moment of recognition that sheds light on the human condition and the mystery of creation. Pope John Paul II, himself a poet and avant-garde playwright, spoke of how a deep engagement with literary art can realize new moments of recognition, which he called "epiphanies of beauty." But how can the wonder of such an “ah ha” moment change our lives? Can it ever mislead us? These aesthetic, social, theological, and ethical questions animate this sophomore literature seminar. We will engage in close reading of primary texts within a range of genres, including the novel (Joyce’s Portrait of the Arts as a Young Man and Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray), drama (Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Karol Wojtyla’s The Jeweller’s Shop), poetry (G.M. Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” and other poems), and short story (Flannery O’Connor’s “Parker Back,” Kafka's "The Hunger Artist"). Using a multi-faceted humanistic inquiry we will work on developing interpretative skills for both poetry and prose and writing thesis-driven critical essays about the role of literary art in pursuit of the good life.


PJ 2700–H01

Dr. Eugene McCarraher

T/Th 4:00–5:15 pm

Attributes: ETH, HON, HUM

“Give peace a chance.” That plea has been answered all too infrequently in history. Not only have tribes, empires, and nation-states resorted to warfare to settle their differences, but war itself has acquired a spiritual glamour that appears to outshine the humdrum pursuits of peace. Many if not most of our monuments commemorate the perpetrators of conquest, “defense,” and genocide; very few statues celebrate the makers of peace. Why is this so? What attraction does war have for human beings? Why is it so often seen as a crucible of character and manhood? Why is peace so difficult to make, or sustain? Is peace an absolute good, or are there times when, however awful we may find it, warfare is legitimate, even mandatory? What is “war,” and what is “peace,” anyway? Can war be relegated to the past, just as chattel slavery was, or are we condemned to incessant warfare, “just” or not? 


HUM 2900–001

Dr. Mary Hirschfeld

M/W 4:30–5:45 pm

Attributes: CST, WREN

Since its emergence in the early modern period, capitalism has produced a material prosperity which had hitherto never been imagined, and which now plays a dominant role in our society. Markets seem to be able to channel the self-interested actions of individuals toward the socially beneficial result of widespread prosperity. There is something of a paradox in the fact that capitalism emerged in a Christian culture that rejects materialism and excessive self-love. The result has been a discomfort with capitalism and the ethics it appears to embody. Is pursuit of self-interest natural and intrinsically good? Or is a manifestation of the vice of greed? How are we to respond to the income inequality that markets seem to generate? Should we be worried about excessive materialism? Do our economic lives serve our purpose as human beings, or are we enslaved by the imperatives of the market?

To get purchase on these questions it is useful to step out of our time period and think about how capitalism evolved. The culture which gave rise to capitalism is alien to us in terms of the values people held, the way they understood human nature and human society. Learning about that culture and especially about the way it evolved into our world can give us a richer understanding of the market ethos that is so fundamental to modern discourse. Accordingly, in this course we will begin with a look at the economic organization of the middle ages and the worldview it embodied. We will then work through a mix of developments in economic history and in the history of theology, philosophy, and the natural sciences in order to understand how the modern worldview came to be.


HUM 2900–002

Dr. James M. Wilson

M/W/F 12:30–1:20 pm

Attributes: ENG, FINE, WREN

For more than five centuries, the lyric poem has served as a means of representing the life of the mind as it grapples with the difficulties of body and soul, love and truth, God and Being. By providing conventions and forms, it has also served poets and readers alike as a vehicle for disciplined meditation on these things. As such, it is a capacious form for the cultivation of the intellect, spirit, and aesthetic sense. In this course, we will take philosophical, theological, and practical approaches to lyric poetry, studying brilliant poems alongside major philosophical and spiritual texts. We will write our own poems, and learn and recite those of past masters so that every student can enter into a deeper, more reflective intellectual and artistic life.


HUM 2900–003

Dr. Margaret Grubiak

T/Th 2:30–3:45 pm

Attribute: FINE

What does our material world tell us about the values and beliefs we hold dear, and what does architecture specifically tell us about our cultural identity? This course is a survey of architecture and urban planning in the United States from the colonial era to the present that asks us to consider the ways we can interpret the American landscape to understand American society and culture. This course will introduce you to the history of American architecture through the works of major American architects, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Frank Furness, H.H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Robert Venturi, and Frank Gehry.  


HUM 2900–004

Dr. Anna Moreland

M/W/F 9:30–10:20 am

Attributes: CTHL, P&J

Intellectual discourse in our modern world occurs within a cultural context of radical pluralism. This pluralism takes shape in many forms, be it political, racial or religious. Some even characterize the contemporary situation as a clash of cultures. In this course we will examine one face of this situation, that of religious pluralism. We will analyze the emerging traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in broad strokes. We will learn how each faith came upon the world stage, how each came to define its beliefs and practices, and how these were defined by conversation, confrontation and conflict with each other. This introduction to the three Abrahamic traditions will enable us to engage in inter-religious conversation from some knowledge of each tradition’s origins, beliefs, and practices.


HUM 2900–005

Dr. James M. Wilson

M/W/F 11:30 am–12:20 pm


Near the end of his life, the Anglo-Irish poet W.B. Yeats enjoined his successors thus:

"Irish poets, learn your trade,

Sing whatever is well made,

Scorn the sort now growing up

All out of shape from toe to top,

. . . . .

That we in coming days may be

Still the indomitable Irishry."

In linking the artist’s trade with a vision of national identity and a conception of goodness and beauty (the “well made”), Yeats was not alone.  In the first decades of the Twentieth Century, Irish nationalist movements sought to make a case that Ireland was a distinct culture and nationality from Great Britain and therefore deserved political independence.  They sought to define and in some sense create what it meant to be Irish as an individual person and member of a community so that they could make an argument for how one ought to live in the world and how one ought to exist as a member of an ancient Irish nation and as a potential citizen of a modern Irish state.  At stake was not merely who could be included asIrish, but whether the Irish nation as a coherent entity had any distinct role to play in the history of civilization and in the modern world.  But more than this, such efforts raise the question of how the people of a historical nation relates to that which transcends history, namely the truth and the divine.  How do our commitments to a people stand in relation to our ordination to God?  This became an especially potent matter in Ireland precisely because the population was divided between a Catholic majority and an Anglo-Irish Protestant minority.  Questions of nation, therefore, lead to others: What role does religious confession play in the life of the nation? and what role can a love of nation play in the life of the spirit?

We will explore five of the major answers to these questions in the works of a handful of modern Ireland’s most accomplished and influential writers, taking specific account of how their religious and political beliefs give form and substance to a particular definition of the Irish nation.  We shall read the poetry, plays, and prose of W.B. Yeats, the cultural criticism and short stories of Daniel Corkery, the stories and novels of James Joyce, a novel by Elizabeth Bowen, and conclude with a study of the “European Catholic modernists,” Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin, and Thomas MacGreevy.


HUM 3001–001

Dr. Michael Tomko

M/W 1:30–2:45 pm

Attributes: ENG, WREN

In this class we will explore the “otherworldly” fiction as well as the theological, critical, and philosophical writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings. These works have often been dismissed as either escapist nostalgia or mere entertainment, but the Inklings saw their writings as offering alternative ethical, social, and even ecological visions. Tolkien set out specifically to write a mythology for England. We will investigate why these writers turned to the aesthetic, especially a mythological or fantastic aesthetic, at this time. Why did they employ a literature that was either mythologically, theologically, historically, or perspectivally “otherworldly”? How do these works, so often viewed simply as fantastic or supernatural, relate to the worldly and the natural? In what ways did these writers wrestle with literary traditions, such as Romanticism, and engage with the major intellectual questions of the day including issues in science, gender relations, and political power? In an interdisciplinary approach that engages both literary and theoretical texts, we will ultimately ask if this group formed a coherent cultural movement and consider their place in accounts of the twentieth-century religion and culture in Great Britain.


HUM 6500–100

Dr. Anna Moreland

T 6:10–8:50 pm

Attribute: WRINT

One of the primary aims of the Humanities Department is to help you achieve a human and integrated perspective on your learning. As the “capstone” to your undergraduate career, the senior symposium is an opportunity for you to reflect, with your classmates, on what you have learned in the major, to tie together the various ideas to which you have been introduced, and to explore a particular question that has especially struck you over the course of your studies. There are two major components of the course.

First, we will engage in the type of intellectual conviviality that characterizes Humanities in discussions of short writings from the themes of each of the Gateways. This will enable us to review and consolidate those central courses and will reinforce your intellectual habits and vocation to the intellectual life for the world beyond Villanova.

Second, you will take on a major writing project, the senior essay, that will allow you to explore a topic in depth and synthesize a particular theme, question, or issue from your time at Villanova. This meaningful project, drawing on both the Gateways and Electives, should deepen your relationship with yourself and your world.

Contact Us

Department of Humanities

St. Augustine Center Room 304
Villanova University 
800 Lancaster Avenue
Villanova, PA 19085 
Phone: 610.519.6165
Fax: 610.519.5307

Chairperson: Dr. Mark Shiffman
Administrative Assistant: Luisa Ruggieri