Study groups have been a feature of every semester, with three being offered already for this summer — but before I go into details concerning the current offerings, here’s an answer to the titular question:
A study group is an informal, extracurricular meeting of people who talk about a work. Yes, that’s right, essentially another St. John’s class, just not for credit; however, while the set up is similar, many other rules may be overlooked. Any text — or even work of visual art, music, film — may be discussed, whether it be on the syllabus or the New York Times Best Seller list or neither. All students, both undergraduate and graduate, alumni, faculty, staff, and interested townspeople are eligible to join (though only study groups led by Johnnies are free to reserve space on campus). And where and when the group will meet is up to the leader of the study group, who often acts as the tutor would in a normal class.
This means more critical reading, more critical discussions, but this time exploring a book/topic/author either not in the canon or for a second, much more thorough time. Also, as mentioned above, this is one of the ways for graduate students and undergrads to interact and make their textual inquiries a truly campus-politan affair. Another benefit is the workshop of ideas it might become, if as the leader you elected to lead a study group on the text(s) on which you’ll write your Master’s Essay.
So what’s on the menu this summer so far?
- The Short Stories of Flannery O’Connor, led by a current student who will write his Master’s Essay particularly on “Everything That Rises Must Converge”
- Middlemarch by George Eliot, led by an alumnus currently teaching at a local community college
- The Inward Morning: A Philosophical Exploration in Journal Form by Henry Bugbee, led by a current student — and meeting three times, each in a separate National Park!
Past study groups have discussed Greats, like Paradise Lost, the complete works of Plato, Austen’s Emma, as well as classic Hollywood films, Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, and Keynes’ General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.
Any incoming, current, or former students need only submit a proposal to the Associate Director of Graduate Programs, and he or she will assign you a room and a time that works with your schedule (that is, if you aren’t planning to lead your group inside National Parks).
So whether you think the Great Books list is lacking, or you think it’s high time you were the tutor, or you simply can’t get enough of profound analysis, study groups just might be the best way to out-Johnnie yourself.