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Shimer Great Books School

Shimer Great Books School, Liberal Studies

Liberal Studies combines the examination of the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences, and prepares us to live a fully examined life.

Through the bachelor of arts in liberal studies, you will gain an understanding of the connections between ideas that form the core of the Shimer Great Books School’s unique curriculum. Examine primary sources written by groundbreaking, original thinkers and use the wisdom of these vastly different minds to refine your own pursuit of understanding.

About Shimer Great Books School

The Shimer Great Books School 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.


“It’s the knowledge you get from the classes—the knowledge of how to ask questions and come to an understanding of people who are very different from you in so many ways."

- Jack, Shimer student

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Liberal Studies, B.A.

The Shimer School Liberal Studies Major comprises the entirety of the School's core curriculum. Liberal Studies majors take the full complement of courses in all three major areas of the curriculum: humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Studying the breadth of human knowledge and creation, largely (but not entirely) in traditions from Europe and North America, allows Liberal Studies majors to integrate knowledge and methods from disparate fields and develop insights that transcend any given discipline of study. Like all Shimer School majors, those in Liberal Studies develop their insights through a combination of individual reflection; small-class discussions; intensive writing, peer-editing and revision of essays; and the variety of practical exercises that reflect our readings in each area sequence of courses.

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 Liberal Studies 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

  • 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

  • SGBN 201 - What is Motion?

    SGBN 201 - What is Motion?

    4.00 credit hours

    The history of the modern study of motion (or mechanics) begins with Galileo, followed by Descartes and, above all, Newton. Generations later, Faraday offers experimental work to unify the idea of "force", which leads to attempts to unify physical theories of matter, electricity, light and energy in the work of Einstein and quantum mechanics. Through primary texts and reflections on the social and cultural contexts in which the science of mechanics developed, students conduct epistemological inquiries. They also undertake a semester-long experimental investigation into the nature of light.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBN 202 - What is Life?

    SGBN 202 - What is Life?

    4.00 credit hours

    Concentrating on the modern development of biology, this course begins with answers to the question of the course title in the 17th century and proceed thence to the recent neo-Darwinian synthesis. Through readings and laboratory exercises, students study the origins of evolutionary and genetic theory and the social and cultural milieux in which they developed. Epistemological questions raised earlier in the Natural Sciences sequence continue to guide inquiry, along with new ethical and even political considerations involving the question of the course title.

    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

  • SGBS 201 - Critical Theories of Society and Politics

    SGBS 201 - Critical Theories of Society and Politics

    4.00 credit hours

    Western political history and its theoretical background have undergone serious critique over time, particularly regarding forms of domination and alienation that are not addressed by classical liberal political theory. Beginning with Hegel's philosophical defense of the modern state, students engage with Marxist, anarchist, feminist and post-colonial critiques of the dominant Western power structures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    Schedule Of Classes

  • SGBS 202 - Social Formation and Social Transformation

    SGBS 202 - Social Formation and Social Transformation

    4.00 credit hours

    Societies form individuals. In texts illustrating a wide range of social scientific methods, this course examines how the process of individuation might be interrupted or diverted. Beginning with a study of various accounts of the social and moral formation of children, the course moves to a study of broader theories of the social construction of reality within a range of historical contexts. The course concludes with a consideration of the possibility for transforming society itself through the emergence of new social structures and norms. Students complete a major research paper.

    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


  • Four credits from SGBH, SGBN or SGBS at the 300-level or above

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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