This year, for the first time, new students at Penn State University will read a common text before beginning classes: Eyal Press’ Beautiful Souls: The Courage and Conscience of Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times. The inaugural book was chosen “for its broad approach to ethics and ethical decision-making.”
The new program, Penn State Reads, “is designed to provide a shared experience among new students, encourage intellectual engagement within and beyond the classroom, stimulate critical thinking, and foster a deeper connection to Penn State’s mission and core values.”
More than 7,000 incoming students will receive a copy of Beautiful Souls when they visit campus this summer for a two-day New Student Orientation session. They’ll read the book before returning to Penn State for the fall semester.
Faculty are encouraged to incorporate the text and its themes into coursework for first-year students as well as upperclassmen. The university has compiled a study and teaching resource guide to Beautiful Souls. It includes discussion questions and links to biographies of the philosophers and major figures, details about the geographic locations, and background on the major topics and historical references mentioned in the book.
Outside the classroom, related events like art exhibits, performances, films, speakers and workshops, and a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are planned. One key speaker, Eyal Press, will visit campus to meet students and give a “lecture connecting the themes of Beautiful Souls to the experiences and challenges facing college students today.”
Several other schools throughout the Penn State University system, including the Berks and Abington campuses, are also incorporating Beautiful Souls into curricular and co-curricular programming this fall. It’s a great example of neighboring schools exchanging ideas, pooling resources, and extending the shared intellectual experience even further.
Beautiful Souls • Picador • 320 pages
Update: A Conversation with Eyal Press
Eyal Press spoke with WPSU/Penn State Public Media on October 24, part of their Conversations from Penn State interview series.