The St. John’s College community of students, faculty, and staff work outside of the classroom on a number of media projects, some of which are featured below. For inquiries, please contact communications(at)sjc.edu.
St. John’s College is dedicated to a strange idea—that education is for the sake of freedom. Our motto promises to “make free human beings out of children by means of books and a balance.” As the oldest Great Books school in the United States, we’ve been working at this for a while.
So, what is a liberal education? What is its future? And what do books—and conversations about them—have to do with freedom and the life of the mind? Through conversations with a range of guests, we explore the meaning of liberal education, its power in the lives of individuals, and the economic, political, and cultural pressures it faces.
Hosts: St. John’s College Tutors Brendan Boyle (Annapolis) & David McDonald (Santa Fe)
Producer and Editor: Brandon Wasicsko
We welcome your feedback and questions at booksandabalance(at)sjc.edu.
Listen with the embedded player at the links below, and wherever you tune into podcasts.
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What happens when a person reads literature? An observer, seeing little more than eye movement, might conclude that the answer is: nothing. But literature is a form of travel, says our guest, and encountering it a potentially shattering experience. “Literature,” he says, “allows us to imagine a future that we could not afford to live in.” Arnold Weinstein is the Richard and Edna Salomon Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Drawing on a lifetime of reading and teaching great works, he joins the podcast to discuss the galvanizing effect of literature and its darkness, how it can play the role of both wrecking ball and tonic in our lives, how reading changes with age, and much more.
The contemporary university, especially in the United States, is a place for free and open inquiry unencumbered by censorious forces, a place where “professors should be leading undergraduates on voyages of intellectual self-discovery.” Or is it? Professor James Hankins of Harvard University joins the podcast to discuss the history of universities as institutions, the intellectual and political conditions of their founding, and what the Renaissance humanists thought of their purpose in society and the lives of their students. What light might this history shed on our current debates about academic freedom in higher education?
What is the value of a humanities education, especially for historically underserved students? What is the place of the humanities in American higher education? Beginning with a discussion of Louis Menand’s essay, “What’s So Great About Great-Books Courses?” (The New Yorker, Dec. 2021) and Brian Rosenberg’s response (“This Is the Way the Humanities End,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Jan. 2022), Boyle and Rosenberg’s conversation explores tensions between the research and education missions of the modern university, the role of the humanities teacher, what’s at stake in how we think about the purpose of general education, and more.
“[The human] condition of freedom, which is the condition that makes ethical life possible, is the question to which liberal education addresses itself.” So says Roosevelt Montás, Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University, in conversation with Brendan Boyle about the aims of liberal education. Their discussion explores the use of texts as a means to help students shape their own lives, the compatibility of liberal education’s positive and negative ends, and the role of the teacher, among other topics.
Daniel Harrell joins Brendan Boyle to discuss competing defenses of liberal education and the nature of liberal education’s “freedom.” What does it mean to be “freed” by education if we remain “bound” in other ways? How can we be free human beings in the face of our own mortality? What is the relationship between knowledge and experience? How are tools of learning used and abused?
Read or listen to the lecture discussed in this episode: Daniel Harrell, “The Lost Idea of a Liberal Art,” delivered as part of the Graduate Institute summer lecture series in 2015.
What is thinking? What isn’t? When does technology move from aiding to impeding human flourishing? How can limitations help us live better? Zena Hitz joins David McDonald to consider these questions and many more. Also discussed are higher education, tragedy and comedy, Don Quixote, depth and longing, the complexities of technological progress, and the influence of upbringing.
This entirely student-created podcast revolves around a quintessential Johnnie trait: dialogue. The College host Jordan West (A22) sits down (virtually) with fellow students, staff, and alumni to talk about how unique aspects of the interconnected academic and social experience at St. John’s are expressions of different elements of the Program.