Overview & History

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In 1945 the members of the departments of history, religion, and philosophy at what was then Southwestern at Memphis produced a syllabus for a first-year course in the humanities that they called “Man in the Light of History and Religion” – a title that students soon shortened to the “Man Course.”  The aim of the course was to overcome what the founding faculty saw as the alarming tendency for higher education in the United States to become more and more fragmented and specialized, with students concentrating their attention on their “majors” and “minors” while faculty dedicated themselves almost exclusively to their disciplinary specialties.  In response, these members of the Southwestern faculty set out to create a program that would bring together insights from a number of disciplines.

This program was hopefully and enthusiastically launched in the fall of 1945 as a 6-hour, double-credit course.  Originally it was divided into weekly units, the first three days of the week being devoted to lectures and the last three – including Saturdays – to discussion.  Almost immediately the faculty found that the reading assignments, which represented the combined enthusiasms of five professors, were excessive and had to be reduced.  They also encountered scheduling difficulties that forced them to alternate lectures with discussion sessions and to group units of the course into periods of three or four weeks, with greater emphasis on “man and his problems” as the thread that provided continuity throughout the course.  And so it has continued for more than sixty years now, as the course has continued to adapt.

One of the most important adaptations was the change of title, in 1986, to The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion – or SEARCH, for short.  Another set of adaptations came with Rhodes College’s adoption in the early 21st century of the system of Foundations requirements.  In particular, Rhodes’ students must complete a three-semester sequence of courses to satisfy the Foundations 1 requirement in “meaning and values,” and the SEARCH and LIFE programs are the options from which they choose.  SEARCH continues to count for twelve credits, but those credits are now spread across three semesters with four credits per term – a significant change from the two six-credit semesters of the original course in 1945.  Lectures are also a much less prominent feature of SEARCH than they originally were, with students gathering for “common session” lectures only five or six times a semester in the first two semesters of the course, and not at all in the third.  The main feature of the course is now the “colloquium,” where students gather three times a week to discuss the assigned readings with their classmates and instructor.  And none of the classes, neither “colloquium” nor “common session,” meets on Saturdays.

Numerous other changes have been made, and continue to be made, as the SEARCH faculty meets at the end of each academic year to examine the program’s curriculum and calendar in order to revise them for the year to come.  The desire to rise above disciplinary specialties for a more general and comprehensive exploration of questions of meaning and value remains, however, a vital part of the SEARCH Program.