Liberal Arts at the University of Winchester

A different kind of degree for a different kind of university education.

This programme has now been closed by the university of Winchester. The tutors are leaving the website up as we hope it remains a useful testament to a different kind of education, one that may become possible again in a future that is different from this present moment in higher education.

We tried to stand for a philosophical interdisciplinary higher education – one that was not professionally oriented, but was instead existentially, politically, socially, environmentally, spiritually and personally significant. We wanted our students’ studies to matter to them as human beings, living their lives as best they can. We thank each one of them for risking this kind of higher educational work. We hope too that they can say now, it helped them to know themselves better.

Above all, the programme tried to recover the spirit of Socrates, and to give education its own voice in a world where very often it is chained, indeed enslaved, to the most instrumental and often inhuman ends. Sadly, and perhaps in the end not surprisingly, Socrates has again been taken to court, and again been found guilty of critical thinking. The verdict, as so often before, is execution…

If you love to read and talk about ideas, if you ask questions about everything, if you find pleasure in reading and thinking, and if you like the challenge of working without subject boundaries, then explore our website to see if Liberal Arts and its interdisciplinary study at Winchester might be the degree for you.

Liberal Arts is a different kind of degree. And it is not a new degree. It is the oldest form of higher education in the Western tradition. In many ways it is where the idea of higher education began.  It contains ideas and research from across many of the recognised academic subjects (psychology, history, sociology, art, English literature, political studies, religious studies, media studies, physics etc.). But it does not limit its areas of enquiry within any one subject boundary.

In the Ancient world a student could ask questions on ‘the atoms, on the shape of the earth, on moral conduct, God, and the immortality of the soul … Can you easily imagine such a motley conversation between a student and his teacher in our days? Yet, in all probability, quite a few young people have a similar … collection of inquiries on their minds, and would like to discuss all of them with the one person of their confidence.’

Erwin Schrödinger, ‘Nature and the Greeks’ and ‘Science and Humanism’

Beyond single subjects we think of Liberal Arts as philosophical study across humanities, social and natural science, and arts. It is ideal for those students who can’t fit their own interests within one or two single subjects, and who want to expand their knowledge, thinking, and understanding beyond single academic disciplines. It is a course that isn’t afraid to ask the big questions and to encourage its students to explore their own answers.

‘It’s a helpful reminder that some of the rigid divisions of subject matter that so often afflict the academy won’t quite do when fundamental issues are at stake… While we talk, and talk freely, about ours being a very specialized era where people go more narrowly and deeply into questions than once they did, it is perhaps also the case that the biggest issues that confront us as a human race are issues that require a certain amount of multidisciplinary skill if we’re to tackle them effectively’

Rowan Williams, (2018) Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons, London: SPCK

Liberal Arts has always understood education to include learning about ourselves. It combines academic education with the challenge to ‘know thyself’. Its graduates are, therefore, well-rounded educated individuals who understand their strengths and talents, who know their passions and aspirations, and who can live true to themselves. We will play our part in developing this sense of humanity in each of our students.

We offer(ed) a BA (Hons) Liberal Arts.

‘Seriousness is deeply agreeable to the heart’ (Leonard Cohen). 

Ancient, Medieval, and Modern

Thinking about today, learning from yesterday, in the hope for tomorrow.

The Ancients asked ‘What are the first principles of truth, freedom and nature?’

But the Ancients believed in slavery (politics), in the Earth at the centre of the universe (science), and in the principle of absolute unchanging universal truth (philosophy). The modern age thinks differently. Today, modern reason abhors slavery, yet is the world free? Modern science uncovers the laws of nature, yet why do we do such harm to the natural environment? Modern thought no longer believes in absolute unchanging truth, yet can humanity really have no shared principles or values?

Today we must again ask, ‘What are the first principles of truth, freedom and nature in the modern world?‘ Our BA Liberal Arts can do this by engaging with ancient and modern voices from across different academic subjects, opening students up to examining critically the most important and influential research and ideas in the Western tradition and beyond.

Liberal Arts remains very popular as an undergraduate degree in the USA, and it is now finding its way back into UK universities. It used to be an education available only to an elite within society, but this is no longer the case. At Winchester Liberal Arts can be enjoyed by everyone.

We endeavour to establish studious work practices in our students, finding for themselves a discipline and a freedom in reading primary texts that they will benefit from long after university. We take seriously the idea that the best graduates, and those most valued by employers, are those who have developed for themselves a set of principles that will guide their conduct and most especially the decisions that will affect the lives of others. ‘The more one learns, the more one comes to hate the waste of time’ (Dante Purgatory, III.78), and the more one comes to treasure the wealth of a developed inner and outer life.

Liberal Arts Degree

University of Winchester was the first UK institution to introduce undergraduate liberal arts degrees. We launched our programmes in 2010.

Our distinctive Liberal Arts Education, grounded in ancient and modern liberal arts thinking, means our degree offers breadth and depth in a way different than most. Like others we offer choice but we also ground this choice with a dedicated teaching team who work together to produce a coherent and integrated programme across humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, education, and the arts.

BA Liberal Arts

A broad curriculum of ideas across subject boundaries integrated into a profound philosophical core.