Enduring Questions in the Liberal Arts

NEH-Teagle Cornerstone Grant

At OCC we believe in the power of a Liberal Arts education! In 2021, we began participating in the Cornerstone: Learning for Living project, an initiative co-funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Teagle Foundation. Our project, called “Enduring Questions and Liberal Arts Pathways at OCC,” is anchored in a diverse array of enduring and transformative texts. All across campus, students engage with these texts, develop a more complete sense of themselves and how they relate to the world, and strengthen their capacity to read carefully, write clearly, and participate constructively on a wide range of issues.

Raheem Wallace



“I would recommend [Liberal Arts 101] to anyone, but I would say especially first year students. I feel like overall it’s a class that can help you learn how to master the academic environment.” - Raheem Wallace


Our project encourages students to think deeply about the kinds of questions humans have always asked about themselves and the world:

  • What is the nature of justice? 
  • What is human happiness?  What are the conditions and behaviors most conducive to achieving happiness?
  • What rights and liberties are inherent to being human?  What responsibilities do humans have?
  • What is the nature of beauty, love, truth, and friendship?

In the first year of our involvement in the Cornerstone: Learning for Living project our core faculty team developed a new course designed to introduce freshman students to the liberal arts. LBL 101: an Introduction to the Liberal Arts provides students with the opportunity to engage deeply with enduring questions and enduring texts at the beginning of their liberal arts journey and helps them successfully navigate through their first semester in college. One key component of this is that the student’s instructor for LBL 101 will also be their faculty advisor.

LBL 101 is now a requirement for all students enrolled in OCC’s Humanities and Social Sciences Program. It also fulfills a first-semester requirement in our General Studies Program, and is SUNY General Education course in the Humanities category.

Below is the course description for LBL 101 taken from OCC’s catalog:

LBL 101 Introduction to the Liberal Arts
Credits: (3)

This course serves as an introduction to the nature, scope, and significance of a liberal arts education. Students will be asked to think carefully about enduring questions related to the human experience: What does it mean for an individual, an action, or a community to be just? What does it mean to be free? What economic and social inequalities have helped shape human history and continue to exist today? Students will encounter enduring, transformative texts that have demonstrated a capacity to speak on these issues to many different kinds of people in many different historical and cultural circumstances.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts, students will read enduring texts from a number of different academic areas of study (e.g., history, philosophy, literature, politics, anthropology, psychology, sociology, languages). Students will be asked to make connections between issues and themes covered in the texts and their own experiences. As an introductory course in the liberal arts, students will be introduced to the resources available at the college that will allow them to consider these texts and questions in a way that clarifies for them their educational and career goals.

Here is some anonymous feedback we received from students who took LBL 101 (Introduction to the Liberal Arts):

“My favorite thing about the course was probably being able to discuss with people in class and cover a wide variety of topics.”

“I enjoyed the different readings; they challenged my view of certain topics.”

“With [this] approach we were able to learn about history, literary themes and techniques, philosophy, current/past social issues, and personal applications, which was very holistic and enjoyable.”

“I liked that this class wasn’t just about lecture. I got to learn more about OCC”

“Favorite thing was probably having the conversation of the material in a circle in class. It was easier to get engaged into conversation while looking at everyone. Also, the teacher sharing helped a lot with getting more comfortable in his class.”

“My favorite thing about the course was the diversity in what we talked about and in the wide range of learning.”

“I loved our discussion, the workdays, the activities, and the grading system. I also loved our career activity and the discussions about college which were really helpful.”

“I loved the class discussions. It was very open and I really enjoyed seeing different perspectives and points of view that others had during our class discussions.”

“The different subjects we touched base on. We learned about unsung heroes in the Black community that I didn’t know of. We learned different ways of teaching and understanding society. Learning about philosophers, etc.”

“I like how versatile the course was. All of the topics we discussed left us wide open for any discussion we wanted to touch on.”

“Hearing about different parts of the world and how they operate. I feel like sometimes I can get too focused on the small world I live in, but this showed a lot of the world I don’t know.”

The Enduring Questions (EQ) project at OCC, as part of the Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative, places heavy emphasis on enduring or transformative texts.

OCC faculty, across a variety of disciplines, selected the texts while participating in the EQ project. The chosen texts and authors are noteworthy for the careful attention they give to enduring questions that human beings have grappled with for millennia. The EQ project seeks to promote curricular cohesion by identifying a select number of texts and authors, around which we build an intellectual community made up of both faculty and students.  

Antiquity to Early Modernity

  • *Epic of Gilgamesh
  • *Epic of Sundiata
  • *Popul Vuh
  • Homer, Iliad and Odyssey
  • Virgil, Aeneid
  • *Mahabharata (Bhagavat Gita)
  • *Ramayana
  • *Veda and Upanishads
  • *Jataka
  • *Confucius, Analects
  • *Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
  • *Narratives of the First Nations of the Americas including Creation Stories, Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace (selections), and Thanksgiving Address
  • Pericles, “Funeral Oration”
  • Plutarch “Life of Lycurgus”
  • Plato
  • Aristotle
  • Euclid, Elements
  • *Arthashastra (ancient text on statecraft and judiciary from South Asia)
  • Bible
  • *Quran
  • *The One Thousand and One Nights
  • *Ibn Rushd
  • Augustine of Hippo
  • Thomas Aquinas
  • *Rumi
  • *Baburnama (Memoirs of emperor Babur)
  • Tristan and Iseult
  • Dante Alighieri
  • *Bernardino de Sahagún, The Florentine Codex
  • *Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta
  • Thomas More, Utopia
  • Niccolò Machiavelli
  • Shakespeare
  • Voltaire
  • Emilie Du Châtelet, esp. “Discourse on Happiness”
  • Immanuel Kant
  • Montesquieu
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Rene Descartes
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • John Locke
  • James Madison
  • Adam Smith
  • GWF Hegel
  • John Milton
  • Alexander Pope
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
  • *Olaudah Equiano
  • Jane Austen
  • Edmund Burke
  • Miguel de Cervantes
  • Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Modern and Contemporary

  • Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Kate Chopin
  • Charles Darwin
  • Mott and Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments”
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Charles Dickens
  • *Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
  • James Joyce
  • E.M. Forster
  • Karl Marx
  • Friedrich Engels
  • Frederick Douglass
  • W.E.B. DuBois
  • Herman Melville
  • *Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
  • *Premchand, Godan, Kafan
  • Charles Darwin
  • Mark Twain
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Max Weber
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Franz Kafka
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Rosa Luxemburg
  • Sigmund Freud
  • T.S. Elliot
  • W. B. Yeats
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Viktor Frankel
  • *B.R. Ambedkar
  • *M.K. Gandhi
  • *Mahasweta Devi “Draupadi”
  • *Nelson Mandela
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • *Paul Neruda
  • George Orwell
  • Alice Walker
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • Jean Paul Sartre
  • Simone de Beauvoir
  • Malcolm X
  • Michel Foucault
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Roland Barthes
  • *Chinua Achebe
  • Toni Morrison
  • Judith Butler
  • Anne Frank
  • Noam Chomsky
  • James Baldwin
  • Durkheim
  • Martineau
  • Gabriel García Márquez
  • Nadine Gordimer
  • *V.S. Naipul
  • J.M. Coetzee
  • *Orhan Pamuk
  • William Apess
  • Mary Jemison
  • Margaret Atwood
  • *Zitkála-Šá (Gertrude Bonnin), American Indian Stories (selections)
  • *Gloria Anzaldúa
  • Vine Deloria, Jr.
  • Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony, “Yellow Woman”
  • Zora Neale Hurston, essays and short stories
  • Adrienne Rich, “Final Notation”, “The School Among the Ruins”, “In Those Years”
  • *Joy Harjo, “When the World As We Knew It Ended” and “Morning Song”
  • *Abdulrazak Gurnah
Note: The texts/authors with ‘*’ are designated as non-western

Co-PI’s for the Implementation of the Teagle/NEH Cornerstone Initiative at OCC:
Patrick Kenny, PhD, Professor of Philosophy
Shawn Wiemann, PhD, Professor of History

Core Implementation Team:
Yvonne Fish-Kalland, PhD, Professor of English
David Bzdak, PhD, Professor of Philosophy
Malkiel Choseed, PhD, Professor of English

Affiliate Members of the Implementation Team:
Mike Podolny, PhD, Professor of English
Kristen Brumfield, Professor of English