Program Details

What we do & how we do it


A Firm Foundation

Students enrolled in the William Penn Honors Program take one great books seminar each semester, in addition to major coursework and other electives within the university. Because the honors program provides a substantial liberal arts foundation, honors students are exempt from the general education classes required by George Fox University, with the exception of one math and one science course.

The foundation provided by the William Penn Honors Program is an ideal complement to all fields of study, because it develops transferable skills highly sought in the marketplace. Proficiency in writing, reading comprehension, oral communication, charitable discourse, collaborative problem-solving, analysis, and creative and critical thinking set honors graduates apart. Honors students also develop a keen historical consciousness, enabling intelligent, informed engagement with a range of contemporary issues. Most of all, students learn to cultivate a rich interior life and a clear moral sensibility that will enrich their own lives, as well as the lives of their neighbors throughout the world.

A Four-Year Curriculum

The great books curriculum spans four years and is structured chronologically. The freshman year begins in Ancient Mesopotamia and ends in Rome with the birth and expansion of Christianity. The sophomore year follows the Medieval Era into the Renaissance. In the junior year, honors students have one semester free from honors to accommodate study abroad and additional major coursework. The junior seminar, which can be taken in either the fall or spring, traces the rise of the Enlightenment through the end of the 19th century. In their senior year, honors students take a 20th-century seminar in the fall semester and write their senior thesis in the spring.

In addition to reading and discussing the great books, our students write one major paper each year. These annual essays gradually progress in length and complexity, culminating in the senior thesis. Each course also includes smaller writing assignments and exercises, as well as comprehensive written and/or oral exams.

Why Great Books?

Each honors course has a substantial reading list of great books – books that have had a profound and enduring effect on Western thought and that wrestle with perennial human questions: What is the good life? How should we live? What should we love?

These great books provide formation rather than information. They sharpen the conscience, enlighten the mind, and turn the soul toward truth. The great books prepare students to successfully navigate life’s complexities, such as making difficult moral decisions, facing unexpected hardship, and learning how best to love their neighbors and strengthen the global church in our time.

How Are We Different?

Our great books program is distinct for two key reasons:

  • The William Penn Honors Program is Christ-centered. Our honors students are deeply immersed in Christian theology and history. Each course includes texts from prominent Christian voices of the era, and biblical texts are interwoven throughout. All of our professors are committed Christians, representing a range of denominational traditions, and this shared Christian perspective grounds each seminar discussion.
  • The William Penn Honors Program offers a generous canon, one centered upon the foundational texts of the Western tradition, while featuring key touchpoints with Eastern cultures, non-Western perspectives, and global Christian voices. This canon includes prominent female writers, with a particular emphasis on women’s spiritual writing throughout Christian history. Lastly, this generosity in the program’s canon extends to works of art, music, and texts related to the history and philosophy of science.

The Socratic Seminar

Socratic discussion

Each honors seminar course is six credits, which is double the load of a typical college course. These seminars are just under three hours long and meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each seminar is moderated by two professors and limited to around 18 students, which results in an average student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1. This low student-to-faculty ratio allows the honors professors to closely mentor each honors student, both within the seminar and in one-on-one settings outside of class.

Within the seminar, professors use a modified version of the Socratic method; that is, professors do not lecture or interpret the texts for the students. Rather, professors spark and guide the discussion through questions, placing the responsibility of engagement on the students. This approach creates an interactive and dynamic learning environment in which students must be active, rather than passive, continually challenging each other to read and think more deeply.