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History of the Life of the Mind

In 1984—in the middle of a broad institutional revision of curriculum—twelve faculty members of the University of Northern Colorado met to consider a bold new initiative in Liberal Arts Education. As an alternative to standard, discipline-based classes using lectures and secondary texts, these faculty conceived of a set of six new interdisciplinary courses focused on classic writings of Europe and Asia. These classes would be taught exclusively in an intensive discussion format. These courses were not designed to replace existing introductory classes in history or philosophy or other areas, but to provide students with a stimulating option that would link the perspectives, approaches, and materials of different academic fields. Readings range from Plato’s Symposium, to St. Augustine’s Confessions, to Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, from the Tao te Ching, to the Bhagavad Gita, to Zen Flesh, Zen Bones—texts to be usually read in their entirety.

In the spring of 1984, this new program—entitled the “Life of the Mind Project”—was awarded a two year grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities for course development and presentation. The small initial group of faculty, twelve members from six departments, launched the first six courses during the period between 1984 and 1986. The courses were immediately successful; not only did each meet its enrollment cap at registration, but the student evaluations in every course at the end of the term were glowing.

Since then, the program has grown considerably. Students, representing dozens of disciplines and programs across UNC's campus, take part in the Life of the Mind courses every year. In 2014, we celebrated our 30th anniversary and we look forward to supporting students and faculty for many years to come.