The primary objective of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages is to promote the study of cultures other than one's own, including the Classical cultures of Greece and Rome. Our students develop intercultural competence, the ability to understand and to interact across cultures. Intercultural competence presumes the acquisition of communicative competence, the ability to communicate with representatives of a given culture in the language of that culture. For the Classical cultures of Greece and Rome, the mode of interaction is textual and graphic.
The study of languages and literatures has from the beginning been a constitutive component of a liberal arts education, and in particular of a Jesuit education. Language study develops analytical and synthetic reasoning, while promoting a deeper understanding of one's native language, as well as of language in general. The study of foreign languages in their cultural context liberates the student from a single pattern of thinking and acting. Having gained familiarity with another way of life and a different mode of apprehending reality, one's mind is brought to see that patterns of thought and elements of culture can be widely variant, rather than fixed and absolute. Thus, one of the fruits of language study is a broader understanding of oneself and of the persons and customs of others.
A further path to a wider view of life, culture, and reality is offered by creative literature, insofar as it deals with meaning and relationships in a contextualized and concrete manner, that is, in a given culture. At the same time, by its aesthetic impact and selected, highly concentrated focus, literature can become more "real" than life itself, revealing facets about the reader and about the human condition not accessible through other disciplines. Literature also fosters the development of a personal synthesis of the manifold experiences of life. Within the enduring Catholic tradition at Saint Louis University, the study of letters plays a substantive role in the development of a Christian humanism that can inform and enrich students' personal lives, as well as prepare them to make significant contributions to society at large.
While the indispensable key that unlocks the mysteries and depth of a given culture is the language of that culture, learning a new language is merely the first step in the process of gaining access to the culture in question: one also studies the literature, history, socio-political structure, art, music, intellectual trends, and religion of the new culture. By their nature, then, our programs of study are multidisciplinary; where warranted, the divisions incorporate related courses offered in disciplines outside the Department, such as history, philosophy, political science and theology.