When Tarek Zaher was a freshman, he was a physics major minoring in core texts and ideas. As he took physics classes, however, he realized he was more interested in the human aspect and philosophy of physics.
“I went to professor Lorraine Pangle with this problem, and she told me that they had just created this (European studies track) and I should look into it,” Zaher, a government and European studies senior, said. “Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.”
In spring of 2020, Zaher said he will be the first student to graduate with a major in European studies in the track of European thought. He said he is one of two students who have declared European thought as their track within the European studies major. The track was created under the 2016-2018 course catalog in collaboration with the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas, according to an email from Douglas Biow, director of the Center for European Studies.
“European thought is unique in that it doesn’t focus on one set time period or ... teaching you specific knowledge that’s aimed at a particular career path,” Zaher said. “It is just a broad curriculum intended to allow you to engage with the ‘great books’ and philosophers, and try to grapple with the meaning of humanity and other questions of enduring significance that sometimes are ignored in the modern universe.”
Professors in the Jefferson Scholars Program hand-picked courses that matched the theme of European thought, specifically concerning philosophy and history of European society, Zaher said.
Pangle, a government professor and co-director of the Thomas Jefferson Center, said she consulted with Biow to create the European thought track. Originally, Pangle said she intended for European Thought to be a new major, but the process for creating a new major was too difficult.
“It has to go all the way to the top of the (Texas) Higher Education Coordinating Board, and I was hearing that they were requiring that there be proof that this would help people to get jobs with the new major,” Pangle said. “So what we would have most liked would have been an interdisciplinary major of great books. This was a kind of second best.”
The track will grow when more Jefferson Scholars declare it with interdisciplinary majors such as government, Pangle said.