The Core Curriculum at St. Mary’s University has a privileged role in the education of its students in accord with its mission as a liberal arts institution. More than a set of disparate general education requirements, and in distinction (but not separation) from professional, major, and co-curricular education, the Core Curriculum has the specific purpose of explicitly engaging students with the perennial question at the heart of the liberal arts: Who are we as human beings? This perennial question has many dimensions; the Core Curriculum at St. Mary’s focuses on these five:

  • The question of self-identity
  • The question of the self in relationship to others
  • The question of the self in relationship to wider social structures
  • The question of the self in relation to the natural world
  • The question of the self in relationship to God

Answering these questions requires that students first enter a conversation between their own lived experience and the broad heritage of human learning and practice, both past and present. The Core Curriculum also asks students to take their answers from this conversation and embody them in their own lives of service to others and the common good. Finally, the Core Curriculum aims to enable students to take the necessary risk of asking and answering these questions again as their lives and circumstances change.

The Core Curriculum at St. Mary’s has two parts: the St. Mary’s Core, a set of foundational courses taken by all students, and the School Specific Core, a set of additional courses which addresses key Core areas and skills and which differs according to the specific undergraduate school.

For a recommended sequence for taking all Core courses, please see the Undergraduate Catalog and degree plan for your specific major.

St. Mary’s Core Curriculum Vision Statement

With its roots in classical Greek and Roman educational methods and a heritage that includes the medieval and modern university, liberal arts education has pursued a common goal throughout the centuries. In the many different forms that it has taken, liberal arts education seeks to fulfill the basic human drive to know by opening students to the dimensions of being, the achievements of human discovery, and the diverse areas of human interest.

St. Louis Hall at dusk

Liberal arts education does this with the conviction that such an education will truly liberate students from the narrow boundaries of ignorance, provincialism, social pressure, and false values. With such freedom, the liberal arts aim to transform students into persons capable of self-determination, self-criticism, and principled social participation throughout their lives.

Many universities and colleges promise such a liberal arts education. In the Catholic and Marianist context, a liberal arts education takes on a more specific meaning. At St. Mary’s, the liberal arts are informed by the University’s commitment to the education of the whole person, which addresses every dimension of human life (body, mind and spirit) and asks students to embody in their deepest self the transformations that such an education offers. For this reason, education of the whole person at St. Mary’s embraces:

  • The pursuit of truth and truthful action in a rigorous and critical fashion
  • The Catholic vision of a unity and integration of all knowledge, including the harmony between faith and reason
  • Reflection on the ethical and moral implications of learning and discovery in all areas of knowledge
  • The formation of students in faith and in the practice of community
  • The preparation of students for a world of adaptation and change
  • The service of the Church, and the causes of justice and peace in the human family

In the light of these commitments, the liberal arts education at St. Mary’s therefore strives to bring each person to the highest possible fruition and integration of all his or her spiritual and human powers in the contemporary world (Heritage and Innovation, 1984).

Goals of the St. Mary’s Core

The intention of the Core Curriculum is to educate and assist the student in the challenge of living as an authentic human being within specific social, historical, and cultural contexts. One engages this human challenge through a process of becoming aware of, attending to, critically understanding, and becoming responsible for one’s life in all its complexity. Specifically, this process requires engagement with (a) the complex reality of the self; (b) one’s personal, social, and institutional relationships; (c) one’s embeddedness in and relation to nature, and (d) one’s relation to the transcendent reality of God.

This intention, then, suggests that the goals of the Core Curriculum are to educate and assist each student in becoming aware of, attending to, critically understanding, and becoming responsible for his or her life in the following ways:

As a Qualitatively Unique Human Self

Authentic self-identity requires differentiation and integration* of the following dimensions of selfhood:

One’s physical life
One’s spiritual life
One’s intellectual life
One’s aesthetic life
One’s affective life
One’s moral life

As a Human Being Engaged with Others in the Social World and Its Institutions, Past and Present, Ranging from Local to Global

Authentic social life requires differentiation and integration* of the personal and institutional relationships encountered through:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Community
  • Professional life
  • Political institutions
  • Economic institutions
  • Cultural institutions
  • Educational institutions

As a Human Being Engaged with Nature

Authentic engagement with the natural world requires differentiation and integration* of the following dimensions of nature in everyday life, in scientific inquiry, and in social practice:

  • Nature present in the human person
  • Nature present in other living organisms
  • Nature present in the material world
  • Nature present in the cosmos

As a Human Being in Relationship with God

Authentic faith life requires differentiation and integration* of the following dimensions of one’s encounters with God:

As foundation for personal, social, and natural reality
As mediated by and communally celebrated in religious traditions
As culturally and artistically expressed
In a world of religious pluralism with many modes of belief and unbelief

*To differentiate is to distinguish between the different dimensions of human experience and inquiry, in their subject matter, methods, norms, and values. To integrate is to realize the overlapping concerns, the interconnectedness, and the interdependence of these same dimensions.

The Objectives of the Core Curriculum

St. Mary’s students shall:

develop the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for engaging in critical inquiry and independent, innovative thinking.
acquire, understand, and apply information obtained through a variety means and languages.
respect and understand how embodiment founds, situates, and conditions all human thought, feeling, and action.
compose, organize, and interpret written and spoken discourse.
develop logical, analytical, and quantitative problem-solving abilities.
practice open-minded consideration of and thoughtful debate about local, national, and global social issues.
develop their spiritual lives within a community context.

Core Transfer Requirements

Matriculated students who go to another college or university during the summer cannot transfer the following SMC courses:

SMC1301 – Foundations of Civilization
SMC1311 – Foundations of Reflection: Self
SMC1314 – Foundations of Reflection: God
SMC2301 – Foundations of Practice: Ethics
SMC2302 – Foundations of Practice: Civic Engagement and Social Action*
SMC4301 – Capstone Seminar: Prospects for Community and Civilization

* In rare circumstances, exceptions may be made for SMC2302, but the burden of proof shall be upon the student.

A student can obtain transfer credit for both some School Specific Core courses and St. Mary’s Core courses. However, the Registrar will first seek to satisfy School Specific Core course requirements before St. Mary’s Core courses. Matriculated students who go to another college or university during the summer cannot transfer Math, Philosophy or Theology courses.


William Buhrman, Ph.D.
Director, St. Mary’s University Core Curriculum

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