Catholicism and the Disciplines

students laugh during class

Rationale

The University mission statement avows that Notre Dame’s distinctive goal is to provide a forum where the various lines of Catholic thought intersect with all the forms of knowledge and creativity found in the university. Catholicism and the disciplines (CAD) courses contribute to that shared obligation. CAD courses are designed to engage ideas from the Catholic tradition with the perspective of one or more disciplines and to engage issues of faith or normative questions both critically and constructively.

Learning Goals

Courses that meet this requirement will connect disciplinary knowledge with resources from the Catholic tradition, prompting students to engage fundamental questions about Catholicism and the world in which we live. These courses will help students develop their capacities to think critically and to speak and write effectively about matters of faith in a pluralistic world. Overarching learning goals include the following:

  1. Students will become adept at examining faith questions or normative questions critically as they explore Catholic content from the perspective of one or more disciplines, and as they explore topics from the disciplines from a distinctively Catholic perspective.
  2. Students will be able to defend a position on selected issues of faith or normative questions raised by disciplinary considerations in light of competing alternatives. Students also will be challenged to reflect on (or discover elements of) their own faith or non-faith and to describe the extent to which various claims are supported by faith and/or reason.

CAD Course Criteria

CAD courses put disciplinary knowledge and the Catholic tradition in conversation. They explore a topic, pose a question, or investigate a problem by encouraging students to consider relevant sources and scholarship in relationship to the Catholic tradition. That engagement should allow students to come to a deeper understanding of both the discipline and the Catholic tradition—while also giving them access to the knowledge needed to formulate and articulate their own point of view on the topic, question, or problem.

The guidelines below give an overview of what is meant by scholarly discipline, Catholic tradition, and student engagement in the context of CAD courses.

Discipline: A CAD syllabus will include sessions, readings, or assignments that reflect on the body of knowledge or way of knowing that informs the course. A discipline, for these purposes, refers to a body of knowledge, subject matter, or an established or emerging way of knowing that has its own professional society, scholarly journals, defining questions, and academic department, center, or program. Every Notre Dame department represents a discipline, even if colleagues bring multiple approaches to a shared subject. A CAD course will usually focus on one discipline but may include scholarship from two or more fields of study, especially but not only when the instructor has a joint or concurrent appointment in those areas. A CAD course also may be team-taught or augmented by guest lectures.

Catholic: A CAD syllabus will ask that students read some of the most relevant sources from Catholic thinking about the topic, question, or problem that the course addresses. What that means presumably will vary according to the issue addressed. Generally speaking, this would include no fewer than three significant readings from Scripture and tradition. Some instructors might assign selections from official teachings of the church, from encyclicals and catechisms to diocesan guidelines and episcopal statements. Others may broaden the meaning of Catholic to include the history of Catholic thought and refer to ideas and thinkers from the Catholic intellectual tradition, in particular works from prominent Catholic theologians through the ages. Non-textual materials could be added (e.g., artworks, buildings, or monuments). The assigned readings may also include explorations of more broadly Christian content as long as it is meaningfully related to Catholicism. Further, we encourage critical engagement of Catholic teachings with other religious traditions and secular worldviews.

Engagement: CAD courses ask that students “critically and constructively” engage Catholic sources as they develop arguments of their own in conversation with the scholarship on a topic. That means a CAD syllabus will include at least one major assignment, perhaps a synthesizing final project or several appropriately paced smaller assignments, that require students to make an argument or defend a position. The medium for those assignments should fit the aim of the course and the methods of the discipline. The syllabus should clearly indicate how one or more of the course assignments meet the expectation that students actively engage Catholic ideas. That does not mean, of course, that instructors should assume all students identify as Catholic or that the work of any student, Catholic or non-Catholic, must conform to Catholic teachings. The aim is increased awareness and deeper understanding through critical reflection on the relevant materials.

Guidance from the CAD Committee

By focusing on the following four elements, faculty members can assess whether their proposed courses fit the CAD criteria. The CAD Committee recommends that faculty members develop their syllabi, including learning goals and assignments, with these four elements in mind.

  1. CAD courses should show students how a disciplinary perspective illuminates Catholicism and how a knowledge of Catholicism enriches student understanding of disciplinary subject matter. Along with whatever other frameworks are chosen, this integration should include a Catholic framework, which could also involve engaging and debating various Catholic teachings and traditions. The syllabus should make clear how the disciplinary and Catholic dimensions will be central to the course. (Students will learn to “explore topics from the disciplines from a distinctively Catholic perspective.”)
  2. At least three readings must come from the Bible or from the Catholic tradition. If the choices are not obvious, for example, readings from Scripture, works by prominent figures, such as Augustine or Dante, or papal encyclicals, your syllabus or statement should identify the three or more works. (Courses would be expected to include “no fewer than three significant readings from Scripture and tradition.”)
  3. Students must be required to examine faith questions or normative questions. This dimension cannot be an invitation to, or option for, students but is instead obligatory for CAD courses. The syllabus should give examples of the kind of faith or normative questions that students must address and make clear which assignments require students to engage such questions. Because normative issues are not normally discussed in some disciplines, we note as an aside that normative questions ask not what is but what ought to be. For example, a political science class that examines how Catholics vote operates in the descriptive realm. But if the course also asks the question, how ought Catholics relate to the political order, the course is likewise engaged in normative reflection. (“Students will become adept at examining faith questions or normative questions critically as they explore Catholic content from the perspective of one or more disciplines.”)
  4. In conversation with the disciplinary material they will have explored, students must learn to articulate and defend a view on faith questions and/or normative questions, and there must be at least one substantial assignment in which the student is asked to articulate and defend a position. That means a CAD syllabus will include at least one major assignment that requires students to make an argument or defend a position. Please make clear by your description of assignments which ones, perhaps a synthesizing final project or several appropriately paced smaller assignments, lead to this learning goal. (“Students will be able to defend a position on selected issues of faith or normative questions raised by disciplinary considerations in light of competing alternatives. Students also will be challenged to reflect on (or discover elements of) their own faith or non-faith and to describe the extent to which various claims are supported by faith and/or reason.”)

The CAD Committee evaluates proposals according to these four elements. If a syllabus clearly articulates that the course satisfies these expectations, then an additional “statement” need not be submitted. If you have clearly articulated these expectations on the syllabus and if the system will not allow you to skip the statement, you may upload a document that says something simple like “Embedded in the syllabus.”

Sample CAD Syllabi