Master of Arts in Liberal Arts

Students earning the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts (MALA) formulate and respond to fundamental questions about themselves and their world by reading and discussing the great books of the Western tradition. Whether you are right out of college, concluding a successful career, or somewhere in between, this program welcomes sustained engagement, reflection, and interaction with a community of enthusiastic peers.

The Segments

The Masters of Arts in Liberal Arts program is organized into five semester-long segments: Politics & Society, History, Philosophy & Theology, Literature, and Mathematics & Natural Science. Students are required to take four segments, but can opt to take all five, and they can choose to graduate with a focus on one of the segments.

There are six paths to the degree:

  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts
  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a focus on literature
  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a focus on philosophy and theology
  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a focus on politics and society
  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a focus on history*
  • Master of Arts in the Liberal Arts with a focus on mathematics and natural sciences*

Explore the Segments

* Please note that all segments are not necessarily available each semester. Because of this, a focus on mathematics and natural science or history may not always be possible in sequential academic sessions. To learn more, please contact Emily Langston, Associate Dean for the Graduate Program, Annapolis or David McDonald, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Santa Fe.

The Reading List

From Homer to Heidegger, Lycurgus to Lobachevsky, Job to Jung, the reading list is the heart of the MALA.

View the Reading List

The Classes

All classes are 20 or fewer students in order to nurture a collaborative learning environment, creating space for every voice around the table to listen and be heard. Each semester contains three classes.


The heart of the curriculum is the seminar, in which a group of students engages in a discussion initiated by a tutor’s opening question about the assigned reading. From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in Literature to Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War in History to the Gospel of John in Philosophy & Theology, the seminar spans the Western tradition.


In the tutorial, students focus more intensively on smaller assignments, from mathematical proofs to short literary texts to dense arguments of philosophy or political theory. The tutorial interacts with and enhances the reading in the seminar. In the Politics & Society segment, for instance, students will read Hobbes’s Leviathan alongside their seminar reading of Plato’s Republic. The two classes together allow for deep and meaningful reflection on these books.


The preceptorial engages in the study of a single book or topic and requires students to write a substantial paper. Preceptorial topics range from a close and sustained reading of a Platonic dialogue to an examination of a Dostoevsky novel to the study and translation of ancient Greek to an examination of the technology and philosophy of computation. They are designed to complement the work in the seminar and tutorial.

“St. John’s College, at the most basic level, invites you to articulate your viewpoints. Oftentimes, we all think that we know what we believe, but when pressed or invited to discuss them, particularly when we have a common text, you realize you’re not sure why you believe what you believe.” — Christine Chen, Tutor

Completing the Degree

The MALA requires four semesters of study on either campus in Annapolis and Santa Fe. Students can spend all four semesters on one campus or time on both campuses.

You can start in the fall, spring, or summer semesters. Complete this degree in two years (two fall and two spring terms), in one year (fall, spring, and two summers), in four summers, or part time over several years including any combination of fall, spring, and summer terms.

With classes held in the evenings, the degree is ideal for people working full time. Many teachers will complete the degree by taking classes over four summer semesters.