Program Details

What we do & how we do it

Discussion

A Firm Foundation

Students enrolled in the William Penn Honors Program take one Great Books seminar each semester, in addition to major coursework and other electives within the university. These seminars replace the general education classes required by George Fox University (with the exception of one math and one science course).

The foundation provided by the William Penn Honors Program is an ideal complement to all fields of study, because it develops transferable skills highly sought in the marketplace:

  • writing proficiency
  • reading comprehension
  • presentation competence
  • charitable discourse
  • collaborative problem-solving
  • analytical and critical thinking
  • adaptability and creativity

Honors students also develop a keen historical consciousness, enabling intelligent, informed engagement with a range of contemporary issues. Most of all, students learn to cultivate a rich interior life and a clear moral sensibility that will enrich their own lives, as well as the lives of their neighbors throughout the world.

A Four-Year Curriculum

The great books curriculum spans four years and is structured chronologically, following the movements of human thought throughout history:

Year 1: Ancient Mesopotamia, Rome, and Early Christianity
Year 2: The Medieval and Renaissance Eras
Year 3: Enlightenment through the 19th Century*
Year 4: The 20th Century and Senior Thesis 

*Students have one free semester during the Junior year to accommodate Study Abroad or additional major coursework.

In addition to reading and discussing the great books, our students write one major paper each year. These annual essays gradually progress in length and complexity, culminating in a Senior Thesis that integrates all four years in one cohesive argument. Each course also includes smaller writing assignments and exercises, as well as comprehensive written and/or oral exams.

Why Great Books?

Each honors course has a substantial reading list of Great Books – books that have had a profound and enduring effect on Western thought and that wrestle with perennial human questions: What is the good life? How should we live? What, and how, should we love?

These Great Books provide formation rather than information. They sharpen the conscience, enlighten the mind, and turn the soul toward truth. The Great Books prepare students to successfully navigate life’s complexities, such as making difficult moral decisions, facing unexpected hardship, and learning how best to love their neighbors and strengthen the global church in our time.

How Are We Different?

Our great books program is distinct for two key reasons:

The William Penn Honors Program is Christ-centered. Our honors students are deeply immersed in Christian theology and history. Each course includes texts from prominent Christian voices of the era, and biblical texts are interwoven throughout.

  • All of our professors are committed Christians from a range of denominational traditions, grounding each seminar discussion in a shared perspective.

The William Penn Honors Program offers a generous canon, centered upon the foundational texts of the Western tradition while also featuring key touchpoints with Eastern cultures, non-Western perspectives, and global Christian voices. 

  • Our curriculum includes prominent female writers, with a particular emphasis on women’s spiritual writing throughout Christian history. This generosity in the program’s canon extends to works of art, music, and texts related to the history and philosophy of science.

The Socratic Seminar

Each honors seminar course is six credits, the equivalent of two typical college courses. These seminars are just under three hours long and meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Each seminar is moderated by two professors and limited to around 18 students, which results in an average student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. This low student-to-faculty ratio allows the honors professors to closely mentor each honors student, both within the seminar and in one-on-one settings outside of class.

Within the seminar, professors use a modified version of the Socratic method; that is, professors do not lecture or interpret the texts for the students. Rather, professors spark and guide the discussion through questions, placing the responsibility of engagement on the students.

This approach creates an interactive and dynamic learning environment in which students must be active, rather than passive, continually challenging each other to read deeply and speak thoughtfully.