Introducing New Rosary College Faculty Member, Dr. Elizabeth Larrivee (Political Science PhD, University of Notre Dame)

Elizabeth L’Arrivee

Courses Scheduled for Fall '24

Dr. Elizabeth L’Arrivee is scheduled to teach an in-residence and online writing course called Elements of Writing for Rosary College this fall, where students will learn the art of communication through the written word. If you are interested in taking either the online writing course or the in-residence writing course, you can register here. Rosary College accepts full-time and part-time students of any age or background, and courses can also be audited (for only 50% of the full tuition cost).

Elizabeth L’Arrivee

Academic Background and Experience in Liberal Arts Education

Dr. L’Arrivee is a political scientist who works in the fields of political theory and the history of political philosophy and has published on Plato. Her first book manuscript is A Precedent for Freedom: The Philosophic Way of Life and Plato’s Republic. She completed her PhD in political science at the University of Notre Dame, and received her BA (Hons) degree at the University of Winnipeg in philosophy. She was the recipient of the Gold Medal in philosophy and the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Committee selectee, and received numerous Earhart Foundation Fellowships while at Notre Dame. She recently joined Rosary College as the Director of Academic Policy and Compliance. 

Dr. L’Arrivee has taught in great books and liberal arts programs at Clemson University and Colgate University, and for the political science department at Clemson. She was a Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute in Clinton, NY, where she led community reading groups and organized several national undergraduate conferences featuring prominent scholars and intellectuals. 

Family & Faith

A Catholic convert, Dr. L’Arrivee was drawn to the faith after years of teaching St. Augustine’s Confessions, Genesis & Exodus, the Gospel of John, and the ideas of Bishop Robert Barron. She moved to Greenville, SC, in 2020, where she and her husband, Dr. Robert L’Arrivee, also a political theorist, homeschool their three children.

We asked Dr. L’Arrivee a few questions about her background and plans for teaching. Here’s what she had to say.

What most excites you about the opening of South Carolina's first Catholic College? 

Christ on Main Community Engagement Center

When I first became aware of the plans for a Catholic liberal arts college here in Greenville, I was excited to be involved in something that would be such a significant milestone for the region. It’s very much a reflection of the genuine growth of Catholicism here in the upstate. 

When my husband was hired by Furman University to teach political science and we moved our family to Greenville in July of 2020, I really didn’t know anything about what the Catholic community would be like here. I got in touch with the headmaster of a local classical school I had a connection with through the University of Notre Dame, Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic School, to try to find connections to local Catholic homeschoolers.

He told me about a local homeschooling family who hosts a monthly Rosary potluck. We went to our first potluck in the fall of 2020 and there were over 200 people there! Many families had mentioned moving across the country specifically because of the community here. 

I’m honored to be involved in the founding of a Catholic college in South Carolina. To me, it is the natural extension of what is already going on with the renewal of liberal arts education and Catholic education in K-12 and higher ed. It is good to see an initiative arise out of local needs, rather than be the result of a top-down mandate. 

What is your area of expertise?

My undergraduate degree was in philosophy (University of Winnipeg), and my PhD  in political science (University of Notre Dame) with subfields in political theory and American politics. I teach and research in the history of political philosophy, which means I have expertise in the thought of those political philosophers and political theorists who have addressed questions that are of perennial importance to human beings, such as, What is the relation between nature and convention? What is the best way of life? What is the best political regime? 

I have taught the great works of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Frederick Nietzsche, and the American Founders, among others. I have also taught Genesis, Exodus, and the Gospel of John.

I'm honored to be involved in the founding of a Catholic college in South Carolina. To me, it is the natural extension of what is already going on with the renewal of liberal arts education and Catholic education in K-12 and higher ed.

Ancient Philosophers, and Catholic Writer and Saint

How did you come to specialize in political philosophy?

When I first encountered philosophy as an undergraduate, it was entirely novel to me. It was also very confusing! But my professors in my first two years communicated enough that was captivating that I decided to major in it. 

For example, one of my professors anecdotally mentioned this quote by the French Catholic philosopher Simone Weil: 

“For when two beings who are not friends are near each other there is no meeting, and when friends are far apart there is no separation.”

Political Philosophy

This idea that human beings, through friendship, are not entirely bound by space and time, struck me as true, but I had no idea why. So I turned to philosophy to study the various arguments for this idea and others like it that express the permanent and universal themes about what it is to be human. I sensed a  vocational calling, and am filled with gratitude that I have been able to spend much of my adult life in the company of these texts.

I’m especially interested in the literary forms philosophers have used to express their responses to these questions, and how those forms themselves shape philosophical arguments. Plato, for instance, never directly wrote down what he himself thought in his published texts, as the author of a philosophical treatise does. 

Instead, he wrote dialogues with characters who are a mixture of historical fact and his own invention. Every time a reader of one of his dialogues wants to say, “Plato says”, they risk misinterpreting his argument. This is true even of his main character Socrates, who was Plato’s real-life teacher. Instead of passively receiving knowledge, as an empty cup that is filled, Plato’s readers must actively participate in putting together all the pieces of his argument to get a sense of the whole, which is a kind of “protreptic” — a Greek word which means “turning toward”. 

In other words, readers of a Platonic dialogue must actively use their own intellectual capacities to turn themselves from being in a state of ignorance, towards a state of knowledge. His literary form, the dialogue, itself reflects a key aspect of his argument about philosophic education. 

And since our own characters are shaped through a process of habituation that begins in childhood, and the political community we happen to be born into has a significant role in that process, another aspect of Plato’s ideas involves learning the original arguments for our political ideas about justice, ethics, and the good life — which is why I became interested in political philosophy and went on to earn a graduate degree in political science.

What was one of the most profound experiences of your own college/ university education?

Professor James R. Muir

Without a doubt, the single most important event in my education was meeting Prof. James R. Muir, a political philosopher I first encountered in my junior year at the University of Winnipeg. To this day, although I have benefitted greatly from the political theorists I have been fortunate to study and work with, I have not met anyone who exemplifies the well-read mind as well as he does. 

Jamie’s philosophy classes were, in the first place, like being taken on a journey through a fascinating labyrinth, beginning with students’ contemporary, mostly habitual opinions, and leading to their proximal causes and origins in thinkers from the past. I came to understand the conventional concepts and categories that defined my own ways of thinking and feeling, the original arguments for them, and some alternative arguments.

Jamie also taught us how to carefully read texts in the author’s own terms. Rather than imposing our own biases onto the texts, Jamie had an extraordinary talent for teaching students how to discern the logical structures of extremely complex arguments of philosophy and political thought for ourselves. 

What is more, Jamie communicated his extensive learning and rigorous reasoning in a way that never felt didactic — his continual anecdotes, frequent digressions, and sense of humor made all of us feel like his classes were the highlight of our week. At the same time, we also felt the gravitas of his classes, as we came to see that to acquire knowledge of the world, we needed to understand the ideas that had shaped it.

I have been extremely fortunate to have encountered many great professors of political philosophy, both at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Notre Dame. But the example of Prof. Muir in those early days of discovery is definitely the model I hold myself to!

What ought to be the value of a liberal arts degree? How does this influence your teaching?

In my study of the history of educational philosophy, the most convincing argument I have encountered is that a liberal arts degree is valuable insofar as it increases the capacity of students to think freely. But what you think freedom is will greatly influence your understanding of the kind of freedom a liberal arts degree provides. 

Many people in liberal democracies today see freedom as freedom from restraint in satisfying their desires. Law, morality, religion, parents, authority figures, etc., are impediments to be overcome. We see this idea of freedom when liberal arts colleges reject traditional liberal arts education and become merely the place for an elite, managerial class to go through a superficial rite of passage. Liberal arts degrees are valuable primarily as a credential, and have little to do with forming students’ characters for virtue or citizenship.

Another prevailing view within higher education today sees freedom in terms of a dichotomy between oppressor and oppressed. The liberal arts college in this view is valuable insofar as it promotes the liberation of the oppressed according to the dominant political ideology or political authority of the day, e.g., post-modernism, post-colonialism, Marxism, etc. 

But these views of freedom are problematic. In the first view, if freedom is essentially a negation of all restraint, what does one possess when all constraints have been thrown off? Freedom as negation is freedom towards nothing, and thus in itself becomes an empty concept without the presence of the very thing it seeks to negate. 

With the liberation view, rebellion can at times become necessary in politics, as can overcoming oppression, but do power dynamics define liberal education and the purpose of the university? Recasting every subject of study and the purpose of higher education itself in light of a political ideology is reductive and myopic.

The traditional view of the liberal arts that goes back to philosophic education promoted by Socrates sees freedom differently. Rather than a lack of restraint or a struggle over power, freedom means exercising our natural capacities to learn and attain knowledge according to what human reason can discover. Education has its own value — freedom of thought — which is not derived from a political ideology or tied to something being negated.

When I teach, I don’t see myself as promoting an ideology or rejecting tradition. Rather, I see students as having a natural capacity to make discoveries, and my role is therefore to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and disposition that will facilitate their ability to discover for themselves truths about our universe, the divine, and their own happiness.

How do you plan to integrate course material from other academic disciplines into your own courses to promote the integrated humanities aspect of Rosary College’s Integrative Catholic Studies degree program?

In my understanding, the integrated humanities degree is intended to introduce students to the various fields of the humanities and, by seeing their beauty, increase their motivation for further study. This motivation is most fruitfully expressed when it is directed not towards many unrelated or scattered ends, but towards humanity’s highest end. 

In the writing course I’ll be teaching for Rosary College, I plan to integrate beautiful writing from different disciplines, including music, philosophy, political philosophy, literature, rhetoric, law, and natural science, in the hope that our desire to become better writers will contribute to our highest good.

Why is it essential that Catholicism is present in your writing course?

Few things in this world are better suited to direct human beings towards truth, beauty, and goodness than the sacred teachings and traditions of Catholicism. We have inherited a diverse and incredible store of knowledge and art that continually points beyond itself to its divine cause. 

I think it will be very beneficial to our students to incorporate these traditions into their higher education. For example, as a College in the Benedictine tradition, our classes will integrate work and prayer. I remember reading about prayer in St. Augustine’s Confessions when I was an undergraduate, and his account of how it orders the soul and directs us towards God’s grace. I thought that was a beautiful idea, but unfortunately didn’t connect prayer to my own studies at that time. 

Moreover, I think the written word is in great danger at the moment. Basic skills in grammar, writing essays, and even being able to communicate via email, are clearly eroding. The consequences of this decline for conducting business, negotiating deals, upholding the rule of law, and promoting peace, flourishing, and concord are already apparent. 

As the Gospel of John says, Jesus Christ is the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God. It is not a coincidence that when people become Godless, language becomes corrupted. I hope to elucidate this inherent relation between the divine and the word in teaching this course. 

How to apply for Rosary College’s online writing course or in-residence writing course

Rosary College is currently accepting applications for Fall ’24. Whether you live in the Greenville, SC area or are interested in continuing your education at a distance, we have good news — Dr. L’Arrivee’s writing course, Elements of Writing, is being offered in-residence and online, and courses are affordably priced. If you are a degree-seeking student, Rosary College offers a 2-year Associate of Catholic Studies (ACS) in Integrated Humanities. Learn more about Tuition and Costs here.

Rosary College also has agreements in place with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts and Ave Maria University to transfer credits for students who would like to continue on into a 4-year Bachelor degree program.

You can visit this link at Rosary College to apply and register today.

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