The Idea: Why Great Books?

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The idea is simple, although we believe not simplistic. First, Mercer faculty members who teach in the Great Books Program believe that students must sufficiently engage and confront the Western tradition before they can begin imaginatively to grasp other cultural traditions or before they can critically appropriate contemporary culture and its formative texts. Second, this faculty belongs to a community dedicated to liberal education. Finally, we believe one way to engage the Western tradition in a liberal manner is through thoughtful conversation shaped by great books that record many of the original contributions to that intellectual tradition.

The Western tradition is both the ground and the source of the conditions necessary for the very possibility and continuation of our republic. Each generation of citizens must engage and confront for itself the tradition that it claims to inherit. A tradition (as the Latin trāditio suggests) can either be "handed down" as a gift or "handed over" as a betrayal. True inheritance of such a tradition comes through understanding, which is only made possible by serious study.

We understand liberal education to foster intellectual growth, moral discernment, and civic responsibility. At the heart of our republic’s values are liberty and freedom. The word liberty comes from the Latin libertas, which meant "release from bondage" or "without restraints." The word free, which is cognate with the word friend, descends from an Indo-European word that meant "beloved." Free was applied to someone who belonged with others by ties of kinship or rights. The modern tension between the individual and the state is best resolved if the state consists of citizens who are able to make intelligent, free choices about both the ends and means of their private and public lives.

The great books that are read, discussed, and written about in the program are among the most important books of the Western tradition. They record the inventions of the human imagination, the discoveries of the human intellect, and the inquiry that gave rise to and shaped them. They are original in two senses: they present novel ideas near their original sources in time and they record these ideas in forms shaped by the original minds that conceived them. These books continue to illuminate the human condition in ways that engage our minds, hearts and spirits.


Adam and Megan DeLong are recent Mercer graduates (S'08) who satisfied much of their general education requirements through the Great Books Program. Megan is now Director of Enrollment Management Services with Mercer. Adam is a medical student in Mercer's School of Medicine.

The north entrance to Mercer University's historic quad.

For several weeks during Fall Semester 2010, eight faculty members and eight undergraduate students read and discussed Robert Alter's translation of I Samuel. Robert Alter (sitting in the middle) joined us for the last discussion and delivered a lecture on Saul and David for Mercer's Center for the Teaching of America's Western Foundations.


To contact us: Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, Director
Great Books Program ׀ Mercer University
1400 Coleman Avenue ׀ Macon, Georgia, 31207
(478) 301-5308 or (800) MERCER-U