Humanities Research Collage


Fundamentals: Issues and Texts

The Fundamentals: Issues and Texts program brings undergraduates together with some of UChicago’s most distinguished professors in fields from the humanities and social sciences. Working with a faculty adviser, students develop their own program of study. Students’ questions trigger course selection. Recent examples: “How does telling a story shape a life?” “Is there a just war?” “Is the family a natural or cultural institution?” and “What is marriage?

Note on Applications to Fundamentals:

In light of the impact of COVID-19 on campus and the world, Fundamentals will accept applications from current first-year students both Spring Quarter and Autumn Quarter of 2020. The Spring Quarter due date was Friday, May 1, 2020. The Autumn Quarter date is Friday, October 23, 2020. Applicants will have two interviews with faculty members over Zoom. 

The annual Power of Books Colloquium, which serves to introduce prospective applicants to Fundamentals with presentations by faculty members, is an information session on the major, and an opportunity to meet current majors. The Spring 2020 Power of Books Colloquium was delayed and will be rescheduled during the 2020-2021 academic year. 

Fundamentals Program Overview

The Fundamentals program enables students to concentrate on fundamental questions by reading classic texts that articulate and speak to these questions. It seeks to foster precise and thoughtful pursuit of basic questions by means of (1) rigorous training in the interpretation of important texts, supported by (2) extensive training in at least one foreign language, and by (3) the acquisition of the knowledge, approaches, and skills of conventional disciplines: historical, religious, literary, scientific, political, and philosophical.

The Fundamentals program is comprised of 13 courses, a Junior Paper, and the Senior Exam, for a total of 1500 units.

The Gateway Course 100
Seven Text/Author Courses* 700
Four Supporting Courses 400
Third quarter of second-year foreign language ** 100
FNDL 29901: Independent Study: Junior Paper 100
FNDL 29902: Independent Study: Senior Examination 100
Total Units 1500

* The questions our students pose are broad and far-reaching; as such, they are expected to engage with texts that represent significant intellectual breadth. Students are strongly encouraged to select coursework and texts that represent a variety of intellectual and artistic movements, languages, geographic regions, and historical periods. Students should consult with their Fundamentals advisor and/or the Program Coordinator to ensure their selections meet this expectation.

** The Fundamentals language requirement is designed with the belief that the texts you study in the program should come from diverse cultures and be appreciated in their original language. In many cases, two years of formal language study will provide enough proficiency to analyze a non-Anglophone text in part or whole. However, this is not true of all languages, or all language learners.

In cases where the target language requires more study to reach fluency, a student can prove their proficiency through alternative routes. For example, a student can take a course in which the text will be studied in English translation, but agree with the instructor to read the text, in whole or in part, in its original language. In these cases, the instructor must be proficient in that language and be able to certify (in a short email to the Fundamentals Coordinator and Chair) that the student has engaged deeply with the text in its original language. The student could also study the text in its original language in an Independent Study course. In rare cases, the student could study the text on their own and be given a sight-reading exam. The last two options are left to the discretion of the instructor, who need not be a Fundamentals core faculty member. In both cases, the instructor communicates with the Program Coordinator about proficiency.

All students should be prepared to be examined on their non-Anglophone text in their Senior Exam and must demonstrate proficiency therein by citing passages from the original-language text.

The Junior Paper is a significant piece of writing and analysis, intended to develop your ability to produce a sustained, rigorous, and original reading of a particular text. Most often, the JP analyzes a single text (literary, philosophical, theoretical, etc.) with respect to an issue related to your Fundamentals Question. You should expect to write a paper of about 22-25 pages. Because you are asked to engage with your own question and your own thoughts, it is not necessary or even encouraged to use secondary literature on your text or on the issue.

The paper is typically written in the Winter Quarter of your third year. The Autumn Quarter is also when you will determine your text, topic, and JP Adviser.

To provide you with additional structure, we will have JP Seminar over the course of the Winter Quarter. Sign up for this seminar under the course number FNDL 29901.

Your paper will be graded pass/fail, with recommendations for honors if the essay is of exceptional quality. Although the two evaluations are confidential, you are strongly encouraged to meet with your readers after the final JP has been submitted (or communicate by email) and hear their feedback.

In exceptional cases, you may be allowed to delay writing your JP till Spring Quarter. You must petition the Chair of Fundamentals for permission to do so by the end of second week in Autumn Quarter. Additionally, you are encouraged to meet with the Program Coordinator to discuss your reasons and strategies for writing in the Spring.

The Senior Exam is the culmination of students' study in Fundamentals. It comprises four questions. Three of these ("Text Questions") will each ask students to examine some aspect or difficulty of a single specified text from your list of six texts; the final question (the "Question Question") will request that students reflect on their Fundamentals Question making use of some number of texts from their list. Students will be required to answer one of the Text Questions and the Question Question. Each answer usually takes the form of an essay of approximately eight to ten pages (double-spaced).

The Senior Exam is ordinarily taken over a three-day period, stretching from Friday of Sixth Week to Monday of Seventh Week in Spring Quarter. It will be sent out to students' University of Chicago e-mail addresses at approximately 9 o'clock that Friday, and should be sent back to the Program Coordinator at approximately five minutes after 9 o'clock the following Monday. While writing the exam, students will not be allowed to confer with other students or with faculty members.

During Spring Quarter, students sign up for the Senior Exam reading course, FNDL 29002.This allows time in students' schedule for reading, reviewing and analyzing the six texts on their lists, and for reflecting upon their question in the light of these six texts. Students are encouraged to reread and reflect on their texts throughout their senior year.

In preparation for the exam, students are required to submit a revised Question Statement. This is an opportunity for the students to articulate and explain the reasons for their interest in the text. It should therefore articulate the most current form of the question and include a brief paragraph regarding each of texts that explains how the text to relates to the overall question and discusses whether it poses particular problems or suggests particular avenues of investigation. The revised Question Statement is due to the Program Coordinator by Friday of First WeekSpring Quarter.

Sometime in the middle of Winter Quarter, students planning to take the Senior Exam will be required to attend an orientation meeting with the Chair of Fundamentals and the Program Coordinator. In the meeting, the format of the exam will be discussed, and there will be an opportunity for students to ask questions about the exam and how best to prepare for it.

Ordinarily, students apply in Spring Quarter of their first year to enter the program in their second year; the goals and requirements of the program are best met if students spend three years in the major.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, second-year students may apply in Autumn Quarter for 2020. These applications are due Friday, October 23, 2020. Such students are nevertheless encouraged to consider enrolling for one Fundamentals text/author course in the Autumn Quarter. 

In both cases, students will be interviewed and counseled in order to discover whether or not their interests and intellectual commitments would be best served by this program. Admissions are decided on the basis of the application statement, interviews, and previous academic performance.

This is a rough timeline of the important events and deadlines to be aware of during the academic year. At the bottom are sections detailing the two cornerstone projects in the Fundamentals program, the Junior Paper and the Senior Exams. Mark your calendars and be prepared!

Autumn Quarter
  • Week 1 or 2: Welcome-back reception
  • Weeks 2–3: Review Conferences for students in their 3rd/4th year
  • Week 6: Junior Paper orientation
  • Before Week 8: 4th-years must meet with college adviser
Winter Quarter
  • Week 2 or 3: Fundamentals faculty meeting
  • Week 7: Senior Exam orientation
  • Before Week 8: 3rd-years must meet with college adviser
Spring Quarter
  • Week 2: Junior Papers due
  • Week 2 or 3: Power of Books colloquium
  • End of Week 4: Fundamentals applications due
  • Week 6–7: Senior exams administered over the weekend
  • Week 7: Results of admissions announced
  • Before Week 8: 2nd-years must meet with college advisor
  • Week 10: End-of-year picnic


Junior Paper Deadlines and Timetable

Autumn Quarter
  • Week 6: Attend the JP orientation
  • Week 8: Establish your text, topic, and advisor
  • Week 10: Submit the completed JP proposal
Winter Quarter
  • Week 1: Submit provisional outline of the paper
  • Week 3: Sign up for FNDL 29901; JP Seminar #1
  • Week 5: JP Seminar #2
  • Week 7: JP Seminar #3
  • Week 8: First draft of JP due to advisor and program coordinator
  • Week 9: JP Seminar #4
  • Week 10: Second draft of JP due to advisor and program coordinator
Spring Quarter
  • Week 2: Submit finished JP to the program coordinator


Senior Exams Timetable

Winter Quarter
  • Week 1: Submit your list of 6 texts
  • Week 7: Senior Exams orientation
Spring Quarter
  • Week 1: Submit your revised Question Statement
  • Week 3: Sign up for FNDL 29902
  • Week 6: Examination period begins on Friday and ends on Monday
  • Week 7: Exams due at 9:00 Monday morning
Fundamentals in the College Catalog