Enter the Ancients: Revitalizing the classics

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The Classics division of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures plans to create a Center for Classical Studies to raise the profile of Classics at SLU. Dr. Joan Hart-Hasler, one of two Latin professors in the LLC department and the original proponent of the Center, sees it as a way to not only expand the Classics curriculum with the addition of a new degree and minor, but also to expand the Classics faculty. She hopes that these efforts will render classical studies more accessible to students.

“The whole reason to do this is to raise the profile of the fact that we do have Classics here,” said Hart-Hasler. “Right now we’re scattered and we’re apart, but we’re all going to come together.” Regarding the Center’s logistical implications, Hart-Hasler said: “I can see it becoming a physical set of offices within the language department. It would be something [like the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies], that’s what I envision it as, but it would be here. Here we are. We’re teaching the languages.” Her vision also includes hiring one or two new instructors after firmly establishing the Center.

In the past, Classics (including Latin, Greek and classical humanities) has comprised up to 15 majors; many students have pursued the subject as a secondary major. Pre-med is a popular complement to Classics, according to Hart-Hasler, who refers to the combination as “a really happy marriage.” Classics resonates in numerous fields taught within the College of Arts and Sciences, such as history, theology, philosophy and English. The Center’s task would involve highlighting and reinforcing this interdisciplinary network.

Hart-Hasler’s vision also extends beyond SLU, toward other institutions, saying, “It could be a hub that would actually share resources events with UMSL and Wash U.” Additionally, majors could take courses offered at those universities in fulfillment of their degree requirements.

Michael Barber, S.J., Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of philosophy, has provided administrative impetus for the Center. “I would say that Classics are very important, in my view, to the kind of education that we wish to give our students of a holistic, well-rounded understanding of who they are, and to understand who you are you need to know the sources of what your own understanding of the world really is,” said Barber.

His view on the Center is one of reorganization. “We’re just revising what our Classics program is … we’re trying to revise a major,” he said. “What we’re doing is trying to organize better the resources we have … it’s not like it’s going to take a lot of new resources.” Barber places the Center’s implementation as early as Fall 2015.

Both Hart-Hasler and Barber stress the Classics’ foundational values and cultural relevance. Citing Plato’s philosophy, Greek tragedy and Roman historians, Hart-Hasler said, “They’re all different genres in literature, which is the basis of what all the intelligentsia of Europe and the West formed all their ideas from, the springboard that created modern thought.” In a theological perspective on the classics, Barber enumerated the influences of Aristotle, as well as Augustine, Aquinas and other fathers of the Church. He elaborated on how the classical tradition fosters the relationship between faith and reason, underscoring in particular “the belief that … a person has to give an account of who they are to other people, right? And that means being open to questions, that means being able to respond to questions and give reasons for what you believe … Everything we do in the college traces back to that tradition.”

Dr. Annie Smart, chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, has played an active part in the Center’s development process. To her, creating a Center for Classical Studies has become a matter of community. “The question now is to form a more intentional community.  We are already offering courses in Greek, Latin, and the Classical Humanities; and SLU faculty are already producing excellent research on topics related to the Classics. A Center would gather together like-minded scholars, and would mark a commitment to the Classics at SLU,” she said. While the department she leads would serve as headquarters to the Center, this initiative to rejuvenate the classics at SLU is decidedly open. “LLC is not alone on this initiative—the proposal for the Center is being drafted by a multi-disciplinary committee.  If anyone is interested in the Classical Humanities, I hope they come see us!”