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College of Arts & Sciences

Shimer Great Books School, Humanities

The humanities awaken our senses to the world around us and give us a greater understanding of what it means to be human—teaching us to see the meaning, story and beauty behind all expressions of life and self.

Found at the intersections of philosophy, literature, theology, fine arts and aesthetics, the humanities major will teach you to think creatively and critically, and to analyze all aspects of the human experience. The humanities have been at the foundation of classical liberal arts education since the beginning and they connect us both to those who came before us and to our contemporaries.

About Shimer Great Books School

The Shimer Great Books School at North Central College provides and preserves education centered on discussion of enduring questions and issues. Here, you will immerse yourself in reading, writing and discussion alongside other voracious readers who use what they read to engage with the world and understand their roles in it.

Learning is a constant dialogue where every opinion and every position is questioned and analyzed. You’ll discuss your ideas in a class with people who will push you to think more deeply about fundamental questions than you ever have before. Simply put, the Shimer Great Books School challenges you to delve deeply into the diverse and endlessly fascinating areas of thought and creativity in the company of similarly inclined students and teachers.


“You will probably never read anything the same way again and you will be better for it … You will learn more about yourself and your world than you would ever expect.”

-  Sophie, Shimer student

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Humanities, B.A.

The Shimer School Humanities Major introduces students to various modes of critical reflection on and methodical investigation of human expression and thought.  Classic and major contemporary works of visual and musical art, literature, philosophy, theology and related fields form the core of the Humanities sequence of courses in this major.  Students come to know and understand these texts and works of art partly through individual reflection, but also in small-class discussions with their peers and in intensive writing, peer-editing and re-writing of essays and in creative work guided by course materials.  Each course involves integrating insights into two or three distinct fields in the Humanities, though each follows a focused, inter-disciplinary theme, pushing students to devise increasingly broad yet nuanced accounts of the nature of humanistic inquiry and practice.

Breadth and depth of knowledge and skills characterize graduates of the Shimer School.  Through the core curriculum of the Shimer School they immerse themselves in major classic and contemporary works of human expression, social thought and scientific knowledge and practice.  Their broad familiarity with fundamental ideas and methods across the Liberal Arts provides the foundation on which they build increasingly refined understanding and skills in more specialized courses in chosen disciplines taught across North Central College.  Shimer School graduates thus find meaningful employment in an unusually broad array of fields, including teaching, social work, law, small business and entrepreneurial enterprise and non-profit administration among the most common.

For additional programs and courses in this school, see Shimer Great Books School.

Shimer School Humanities Core Courses

  • SGBH 101 - Journeys through Art and Fiction

    SGBH 101 - Journeys through Art and Fiction

    4.00 credit hours

    Visual art and fictional narratives tell stories. We will cross cultural and historical boundaries to examine each artistic mode on its own terms, laying the groundwork for comparison, contrast and even combination of the two. The guiding theme for the epics, novels, short stories, paintings, graphic novels and films used in the course is the journey of self-discovery, which provides a common point of reference for an investigation of diverse modes of storytelling.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBH 102 - Music, Verse and Drama

    SGBH 102 - Music, Verse and Drama

    4.00 credit hours

    Music, verse and drama all create heightened, focused experiences through performances, though in distinct ways. With words and sounds, verse and music create unique emotional experiences through elements such as meter, rhythm, tone, duration, and silence, while drama provides a window into an alternate world. Through poems, classical music, jazz, plays, operas and musicals from a wide range of cultural traditions, as well as exercises in making both verse and music, we investigate the interplay of formal constraint and freedom in the arts of performance.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBH 201 - Philosophy and the Human Condition

    SGBH 201 - Philosophy and the Human Condition

    4.00 credit hours

    How does what we think and know determine how we should live? Using both classic and contemporary texts from a variety of world traditions, we explore a range of viewpoints on how the world works, what we can know about it, and what that means for important day-to-day questions about what we owe each other and ourselves.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBH 202 - The Search for Meaning in Religion

    SGBH 202 - The Search for Meaning in Religion

    4.00 credit hours

    Together, humans face a common set of ultimate questions: Why do we suffer? What happens when we die? What is our place in existence? And though answers to these questions have varied widely, all seek to make our experiences meaningful. We examine major religious and artistic answers to such questions in particular, with special attention to first person accounts of varying beliefs and the practices that enact them, along with major architectural monuments that have shaped those practices in major religious traditions across historical time and space.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBS 101 - Models of Social Thought

    SGBS 101 - Models of Social Thought

    4.00 credit hours

    The disciplines of sociology, anthropology and economics gave shape to many of the most fundamental concepts of social thought. The texts in this "gateway" to the Social Sciences focus on specifically social phenomena and the theories, normative and descriptive, that arise from the study of structural realities such as the state, the economy, race, gender and class. This course concludes by considering economics as a "model" social science, testing its methods and how its theoretical commitments purport either to describe or guide social action.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBN 101 - The Shape of the World

    SGBN 101 - The Shape of the World

    4.00 credit hours

    How do we understand how people in the past came to their beliefs about the natural world and pursue questions about it? This gateway to the Natural Sciences surveys general forms of ancient knowledge about nature. What questions were important? How did the answers form a system? Through texts, experiments and observations from the Pre-Socratics to the late Medieval Cosmos, including contributions of Islam and other cultures, students study the early formation of holistic conceptions of nature and our relation to it.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBN 102 - What is Matter?

    SGBN 102 - What is Matter?

    4.00 credit hours

    Western ideas of matter proceed from the Pre-Socratics through Aristotle, medieval scholastic-Aristotelianism and alchemy before being reshaped by the views enunciated by Bacon, which herald new practices and ideas (mathematization, experimentation and mechanism). Through texts, experiments and observations developed from ancient to modern times, students see a shift in fundamental questions, particularly regarding the nature of matter. Through historical accounts of the transition, students come to distinguish between the ancient project to understand the world and the modern project to predict and control it.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBI 103 - Gaming the System: Alternatives in Mathematics and Logic

    SGBI 103 - Gaming the System: Alternatives in Mathematics and Logic

    4.00 credit hours

    We see into the philosophical foundations of math and logic by comparing both to games and puzzles, taking a playful approach to questions about how we acquire "exact" knowledge. We compare the historical development of math and logic between the Mediterranean world, India and China and see how classical Greek forms (Euclidean geometry and Aristotelian syllogisms) develop into modern alternatives (Cartesian and Imaginary Geometry and propositional logic) as innovative solutions to quandaries about the nature of reasoning. We learn the uses of mapping in representing quantities visually, and examine possibilities for and limits of applying math to the "real" world. This course is the same as SGBI 101 and 102. Students who successfully completed both of those cannot take SGBI 103 or they will lose credit.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBI 451 - Integrative Studies: Ancient Early Modern World

    SGBI 451 - Integrative Studies: Ancient Early Modern World

    4.00 credit hours

    The Shimer Great Books School's senior capstone sequence explores the complex relationship between text and context. The course is organized around a series of interdisciplinary units that explore a particular historical and geographic setting through the lenses of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. During this first semester, the course focuses on the pre-modern world (i.e. before the end of the 15th century).

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBI 452 - Integrative Studies: The Modern World

    SGBI 452 - Integrative Studies: The Modern World

    4.00 credit hours

    During this second semester of the Shimer School's senior capstone sequence, students focus on the modern world from the 15th century to our contemporary moment. Again, students examine a series of interdisciplinary units that explore a particular historical and geographic setting through the lenses of the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBI 496 - Thesis

    SGBI 496 - Thesis

    4.00 credit hours

    Students plan, research and carry out a senior thesis project centered on an important work, figure, movement or concept, which must be grounded in their major area but may span multiple disciplines. Students in each of the Shimer School majors (Humanities, Liberal Studies, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences) meet as a cohort to discuss writing strategies, report on their progress and present their work. Students in the Humanities and Liberal Studies majors have the option of completing a creative work, whether written or in some other medium as their thesis project.

    Schedule Of Classes

Humanities Electives

Eight elective credits in Humanities:

  • Four credits that carry a prefix of SGBH at the 300-level or above
  • Four credits from the SGBH prefix or another approved Humanities course carrying a prefix outside the Shimer School.


*Consult with the Department Chair for a list of approved courses

Comprehensive Examination

  • Pass the Shimer Great Books Basic Studies Comprehensive Exam (following successful completion of at least six of the required courses at the 100-level).

Students must demonstrate elementary competence in a foreign language. For more information, see the B.A. Degree Requirements within the Academic Regulations section of this catalog.

The Shimer Great Books School at North Central College provides the tools, contexts, and habits of mind that make lifelong learning possible.  At the same time you will have immediate avenues to complement your studies with experiences that will prepare you for a host of professional opportunities designed to match your long-term interests, among them undergraduate research, co-curricular initiatives and internships.


North Central’s internship program helps you apply what you’ve learned in the classroom in a workplace setting. Our location provides you with access to both a world-class city and a booming local high-tech corridor. From Fortune 500 companies to dynamic start-ups on the cutting edge, there’s bound to be a workplace well suited to your graduate school interests and career goals.

A Shimer School of Great Books education teaches students the critical thinking necessary to handle extraordinary intellectual challenges. Shimer graduates have had successful careers in a wide range of professions, including:

  • Educators
  • Attorneys
  • Physicians
  • Wall Street analysts
  • Financial advisors
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Designers
  • Engineers
  • Artists
  • Writers
  • Marketers
  • And more.

Shimer also ranks among the top colleges and universities in the percentage of graduates who earn PhDs.

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