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:

All applications to the program will now be considered in the autumn quarter of the academic year. For autumn 2023, the admissions deadline is Friday, November 17th. Find the Autumn application here.

Our Power of Books Colloquium, which also serves as an informational Open House for the major, occurs annually in April. An announcement will be made in winter quarter about our speakers, and the time and place for the event.

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 non-Anglophone 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.

    The language requirement in Fundamentals must be fulfilled by a course. This course may not be double counted as a text course, supplementary course, or Core course.

    There are four possible ways to fulfill the language requirement:

    1. Third quarter (usually "203" or equivalent) of a second-year non-Anglophone course;

    2.  An independent study course taken for credit in which the text is studied in the original language 

    3. A course in which a text is read in its original language

    4. A course in which a text is studied in English translation, but, with agreement from the course instructor, the text is read in the original. In this case, the instructor must be fluent in the target language and be able to certify (via short email to the Fundamentals Coordinator and Chair) that the student has engaged deeply with the text in its original language. This certification, and whether to allow the student to read the text in its original rather than in translation, is at the discretion of the instructor. The Fundamentals Coordinator and/or Chair cannot retroactively count courses for this requirement without instructor certification and consent.

    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 Third Week to Monday of Fourth Week in Spring Quarter. It will be sent out to students' University of Chicago e-mail addresses at 9 a.m. that Friday, and should be submitted on the Fundamentals Canvas site by 9 a.m. the following Monday. A link will be sent to you for that purpose; if you have difficulty submitting to the Canvas site, you may send the finished exam to: While writing the exam, students will not be allowed to confer with other students or faculty members.

    Students must 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. Depending upon your course load and your planned study schedule, it may be advisable to take fewer classes than usual in your Winter quarter, though in no case should you compromise your ability to graduate by registering for too few classes during the Winter and Spring quarters of your 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 Seventh WeekWinter Quarter.

    In the first week 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. The 2023 deadline is May 1.

    "Late" applicants — that is, transfer students or second-years — may apply in the Fall. Please note that first-year students MAY NOT apply in the Fall. This year, the "late" deadline is November 16, 2022.

    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 5-6: 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 5: Examination period begins on Friday and ends on Monday
    • Week 6: Exams due at 9:00 Monday morning
    1. What does the application ask for?

    The application to join Fundamentals: Issues and Texts is above all a way to gauge your passion for close reading of texts and your ability to express that passion in cogent and effective prose. Above all, the application for the program, including the interviews with faculty, are to assess your fit for the program.


    1. What constitutes a Fundamentals text?

    The program has a broad conception of the term text. A text is any work from any discipline, including events, art, music, treatises, myths, books, interviews, film, data, etc. that help you investigate your question more deeply and fully.


    1. What is a good Fundamentals question?

    The best Fundamentals questions are those that can sustain your studies throughout your career in the program. See our student web page

    for examples. A question that is not suitable for the program is one that concerns itself only with one cultural tradition or one time or place, that is, one a question that is not a good fit for the Fundamentals program is one that could be pursued in a traditional department.


    1. What is the language requirement in Fundamentals and how do I fulfill it?

    The Fundamentals program has a language requirement that asks for proficiency in a non-Anglophone language (at least one) that allows the student to contemplate their text or texts in the original language. We ask that you study a language through 203, or the equivalent, but in some cases the ability to be proficient in a language might be gained through other means, such as native proficiency, study abroad, or autodidactic means. If you wish to prove proficiency in other ways besides successfully completely through 203 of a language in formal study at the University, then it is possible to have an instructor email the Chair with their assessment of your proficiency, e.g., maybe you chose to read a work in the original language though the English translation was read in a class, or you took an Independent Study in which you and the instructor worked with the original text. Languages for AI or machine learning, data sets, coding, etc. are considered languages in which one must work to be proficient and in which texts are coded.


    1. How many Independent Study courses am I allowed to take?

    As many as you would like. Independent Study courses do not have to be with Fundamentals faculty to count as text/author or supporting courses and are excellent ways to do a careful study of your texts. Independent Study courses are arranged between you and the instructor. You meet as often as you and your instructor agree upon, though at least four meetings per quarter is optimal. No written work for the course is necessary unless your instructor deems it to be.


    1. Who is my faculty advisor and what do they do?

    On your application for the program in Fundamentals you are asked to name at least three faculty in the program with whom to work. You can find profiles for each faculty member at

    We do our best to match you with someone on your preferred faculty advisor list, but sometimes the faculty member you list is on leave, is busy with administrative appointments or already has more than their share of advisees.

    The Fundamentals faculty advisor is your point person for questions about courses best to take for your question and is there to discuss texts to look into and work to pursue; the faculty advisor should also be helpful in locating a good Junior Paper/Project (JP) advisor. The faculty advisor and JP advisor do not need to be the same person.


    1. What is the JP?

    The JP is a chance for you to work more closely with one or two texts of your choice. The JP need not “answer” your question or involve every aspect of your question but should be concerned with a text or texts that are important to your question. The JP can be a creative work, a work of expository prose and argumentation, or a hybrid creative/analytical work. The JP is composed in the winter quarter of your Third year in the program, though under certain circumstances (study abroad, student leave of absence), you may register to complete your JP in spring quarter of your third year. The Junior Paper should be between 2 and 27 pages; the Junior Project (creative or hybrid) is measured differently depending on the medium or media you have selected. The JP is not a research paper. You should not rely on secondary sources, do comparative work, or do “lens work,” e.g., a Freudian reading of Jane Eyre or any work wherein you are instrumentalizing one text to read another.


    1. Am I allowed to change my Question?

    Not only are you allowed to change your question over the course of your studies, but you are also encouraged to revisit your question often, modifying it as you see fit. Some of our students have changed their question completely. As long as your question is still a good fit for the program and you feel passionate about it, then all’s well.


    1. Am I allowed to take non-Fundamentals courses?

    Of course. In fact, if you find a course that is a close reading of one or two texts or authors, then please let the program know and we will ask for a cross-listing. If a cross-list is not possible, then just petition the Chair of the program to ask for the course to be considered toward your major.


    1. May I double major?

    Yes, absolutely. About 40% of out majors are double majors. (We have also had triple majors, though that kind of workload is not recommended.) Courses taken for your other major may be considered toward your degree requirements by petition.


    1. What if I apply but am not admitted? May I reapply?

    Yes, if you are not admitted into the program in your first year, then you may reapply in the autumn quarter of your second year. If you applied in your second year, then you may reapply in spring of your second year, but you need to be sure you have courses that can be applied to the major so that you do not fall behind. In both cases, you will receive feedback on how to improve your application, should you wish to reapply. The usual reasons for not being admitted are that your question is too narrow and fits best with a traditional major and/or that your writing is unclear.


    1. Is it possible to take Study Abroad courses and still be on track to finish the BA in Fundamentals?

    Yes, the program encourages all opportunities for you to study abroad for a quarter or a year. We have had students participate in the College Study Abroad programs and rearrange the quarter in which they write up their JP or take the Gateway course, etc. Some of our students study abroad for longer than a quarter and we make the same adjustments depending on what is best for the student.


    1. Is Fundamentals a Humanities program?

    No. The program is merely housed in the Humanities Collegiate Division; this is because of the suspension of the New Collegiate Division, in which Fundamentals previously had a home, along with a few other unconventional programs. Fundamentals is a multidisciplinary major that requires its students to challenge themselves with a Question that must be interrogated with a variety of texts from different disciplines, methodologies, eras, and cultural traditions.

Fundamentals in the College Catalog