Catholic Studies

Close up of a line of pews

Housed in the Department of History within the College of Arts and Sciences, the Program in Catholic Studies explores the history, spirituality, literary and artistic traditions, and contemporary significance of Roman Catholicism.  Through interdisciplinary teaching, student mentorship, and public lectures, it fosters greater understanding of Catholic beliefs, culture, and ethics to enrich the intellectual life of the university while contributing to the common good.

Our Program invites students from all backgrounds to examine Catholicism in an academic way.  Its curriculum places Catholic answers to life's enduring questions into comparative dialogue with other religious traditions and secular philosophies, enabling students to evaluate and discover through all applicable methods of analysis.  The Program stands within the Liberal Arts tradition, then, even as it aligns with the expectations of a research university.

Catholic Studies Course in Spring 2021

Stack of old books

CATH3000: The Human Condition 
M/W 3:35-4:55
Professor Jeff Zalar
Throughout its 2000-year history, the Catholic imagination has produced an enormous body of global literature that plays upon themes of challenge, self-scrutiny, and personal transformation.

In touch with the experience of enlightenment characteristic of many world religions, this literature probes abiding questions of what it means to thrive as human beings amid the joys and anxieties of everyday life. This course examines the style and substance of this literature through an engagement with some of its notable texts, including:

François Mauriac, Vipers’ Tangle
Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter, Part I: The Wreath
Margaret Edson, W;t
Walter Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz
Dante, Divine Comedy (selections) and others!

The Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Foundation

In 2009, the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Foundation delivered a $2 million gift to endow a chair and launch an academic program in Catholic Studies in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences.  The Conways wanted to open a strong local and global dialogue with their gift, encouraging conversations among an array of disciplines about the history, traditions, and contemporary significance of Roman Catholicism.  They intended the program to complement other curricula that touch upon religion and spirituality, including Judaic Studies and Arabic Language & Culture, in order to deepen the transformative impact of students who must live and work in an ever-growing, diverse, and conflicted global community.  They wanted, finally, to draw the community of Greater Cincinnati into discussions about Catholic ideas and artistic contributions as clarified by research scholarship.  This notable investment in intercultural understanding inspired dozens of donors from throughout the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to contribute to the endowment.  The result is a new learning ecology of families, foundations, institutions, scholars, and students poised to satisfy important educational and community needs into the next generation and beyond.

On the strength of the Conway Foundations’ gift, the University of Cincinnati launched its initiative in Catholic Studies in 2012.  This initiative has two distinct yet related emphases.  The first is an undergraduate teaching curriculum implemented by the Conway Chair.  Courses have been oversubscribed by as much as 55% above their enrollment caps.  The second is an extracurricular outreach program intended to attract students to, excite public enthusiasm about, and generate philanthropic support for the first. 

Headshot of Dr. Jeff Zalar

Dr. Jeff Zalar

Associate Professor; Ruth J. & Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair of Catholic Studies, Catholic Studies, Department of History

McMicken Hall

513-556-2220

The inaugural holder of the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies is Dr. Jeff Zalar.  Jeff served in the United States Marine Corps from 1987-1991.  His service included participation in “Operation Just Cause” in Panama in 1989-90 and “Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm” during the Gulf War in 1990-91.  Thereafter he attended Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where in 1995 he received an Honors B.A. in History and Theology.  In 2002, he received a Ph.D. with Distinction in modern German and European History from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  His research is in the history of Catholic culture and the religious foundations of Western Civilization.  After teaching at Christ College, the Honors College of Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, IN, Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he assumed duties as Conway Chair in 2012.

Our curriculum continues to develop, as more core courses become available.  The four core courses are:

  • Foundations of Catholicism
  • The Catholic Intellectual Tradition 
  • Catholic Themes in Literature
  • Catholic Life and Practice

Electives will complement the core courses.  Possibilities include:

  • The Catholic Novel
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy
  • Great Catholic Films
  • Women in Catholicism Yesterday and Today
  • Catholics and American Politics
  • The Catholic Middle Ages
  • Medieval Catholic Art, Architecture, and Music
  • Catholic Social Thought
  • Religious Perspectives on Business Ethics
  • The Calling of the Business Leader

All of these courses will contribute to the Religious Studies Certificate, which is administered by the McMicken College Department of Judaic Studies.  For more information, see

Religious Studies Certificate or Department of Judaic Studies

  • Professor Patrick Deneen (David A. Potenziani Memorial College) to Deliver the Sixth Annual Conway Lecture in Catholic Studies: "Catholic Democracy as an Antidote to Liberalism: What Newman, Chesterton, and Tocquevile Teach Us Today"
  • Professor Stephen M. Barr (University of Delaware) to Deliver the Fifth Annual Conway Lecture in Catholic Studies: "Evolution and the Catholic Faith"
  • Professor Paul Contino (Pepperdine University) to Deliver the 3rd Annual Saint Monica-Saint George Lecture in Contemporary Catholicism: "Dante's Divine Comedy and the Contemporary Pilgrim’s Lenten Journey"
  • Kevin Appleby, Director of the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to Deliver the 2nd Annual Conway Lecture in Catholic Studies: "The Catholic Church and Migration"
  • Miguel Diáz, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See (2009-2012), to Deliver the 2nd Annual Saint Monica-Saint George Lecture in Contemporary Catholicism: "Building Bridges: God, Communal Relationships, and the Common Good"
  • Professor John Connelly (Cal-Berkeley) to Deliver the Inaugural Conway Lecture in Catholic Studies: "From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965"
  • UC Program in Catholic Studies Hosts "Catholicism in Latin American Film Festival"
  • Professor Richard Gaillardetz (Boston College) to Deliver the Inaugural Saint Monica-Saint George Lecture in Contemporary Catholicism: "Vatican II as an Unfinished Building Site"

From the Conway Foundation

"Ruth and Bob Conway believed that what they had been given was a gift from God that they should share with others.  To give beyond their lifetimes, they started a charitable foundation.  Ruth's fondness for her alma mater and their mutual commitment to the Catholic faith and religious dialogue led to their decision to fund the Ruth J. and Robert A. Conway Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Cincinnati.  They never realized how transformative it would become"-Conway Foundation.

From Our Donors

"We've had the opportunity to meet Dr. Zalar on several occasions.  His passion for Catholic history and background in Germanic studies is a great fit for the tradition and culture of the University of Cincinnati.  We look forward to continuing our support for the Catholic Studies Program" - Dr. Peter and Jennifer Mallow, UC undergraduate and graduate alumni.

From the Archdiocese of Cincinnati

"I want to offer my deepest gratitude to all who have been involved in the formation of this Program in Catholic Studies at the University of Cincinnati….This program is a public recognition that Catholic life is not only something to be cherished by members of a particular faith community, but is consistently and enthusiastically present in the public square, helping develop the character of our world, our nation, and the Greater Cincinnati area.  It is something that all people, whether believers or non-believers, can objectively study, alongside the rich contributions of many other faith communities, to achieve a better understanding of the society in which we live.  The Program should also offer enlightenment for how Catholicism contributed to the very development of Western university life, of which the University of Cincinnati is a shining and successful example" - Most Reverend Joseph Binzer, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

From Our Students

" want to take courses on my terms and within my interests.  These courses are among them.  I was raised Catholic and I feel that faith without proper intellectual foundations is insufficient" - Sean, Violin Performance.

"I am extremely interested in taking courses in Catholic Studies!  I love learning more about my faith and its history.  I am happy that these courses are being offered" - Alexa, Communication Sciences.

"Cincinnati has a very high number of Catholics and so does UC.  It amazes me that we have not had Catholic Studies until now.  I think that since we are such a 'Catholic area' we should know about our roots, our culture, and our faith" - Stephanie, Nursing.

"Faith is an essential part of my everyday life.  Catholic Studies is a good idea for UC, because it will account for Catholicism in the examination of many different cultures" - Kelly, Nursing.

"I want to take courses in Catholic Studies to better understand my history and from where my religion originated.  These courses will be beneficial to UC, because they will help to create a sense of understanding among religions" - Lauren, Graphic Design.

"I am not Catholic, but I would like to learn more about Catholicism and how it has shaped past and present society.  Most could learn from the Church's ideas and principles" - Patience, Psychology.

"We've been in dire need of a serious Catholic presence at UC!" - Billy, Aerospace Engineering.

"I think that expanding religious studies is a good idea for a secular university given that so many young people are religious.  Also, Cincinnati has a strong Catholic heritage that ought to be studied" - Ellen, Political Science & Philosophy.

"UC is a very diverse university, but it could use a more serious intellectual discussion about Catholicism" - Annie, Secondary Education/English.

"As a Catholic, my obligation is to learn more about my faith and its foundations.  This, to me, is a given.  I also help with Sunday school at my parish, so hopefully I can share some of the knowledge I acquire with my kids" - Jessica, Psychology.

"I converted to Catholicism about a year ago.  I have never had any religious education before and I am hoping to learn a lot in these courses" - Aaron, Pharmacy.

"I very much want to learn more about Catholicism.  These courses are so different from what I am used to taking!" - Steven, Criminal Justice.

"I have received some form of Catholic education for the better part of fifteen years.  Over this time, I felt like I had learned a decent amount about my faith.  But the course 'Foundations of Catholicism' allowed me to discover and study ideas in the kind of detailed way I would not have respected in elementary or high school.  It is a GREAT way to learn more about Catholicism at a high intellectual level.  It challenges one to think, question, and discover more about its sophisticated faith tradition.  I would tell all students that if they want to gain an intellectually sound and penetrating understanding of Catholicism, this course is a must" - Ben, Mathematics/Education.

"Coming from a faith-filled family, I was not a stranger to the basics of Catholicism, but I never had the time to examine them from the roots up.  The course 'Foundations of Catholicism' considered the history and contemporary implications of Catholic beliefs and practices, breaking down the Church's teachings and activities and analyzing them to their origins.  I wish more people knew about the topics we covered in this course, especially the principles in which they are grounded.  As a result of taking this class, I feel more confident explaining my faith to others, and this can only promote intercultural understanding" - Kevin, Information Technology-Software Design.

"I really don’t think I could be grateful enough for the course 'The Catholic Intellectual Tradition'.  I've learned more about myself as a person in this class than in the entirety of my college education.  I feel like this class was everything I wanted out of college but only got at the end!  If I end up coming back to UC for graduate school or for further education, I will definitely check out the classes that Catholic Studies has to offer" - Regina, Architecture.

"Taking a class in the Catholic intellectual tradition was a true joy.  The class took a solid academic approach, but it intersected equally well with the faith concerns of many students.  The class allowed me to get a view of the intellectual history of my faith from a reliable academic and historical perspective.  This new knowledge then allowed me to appreciate more fully the intellectual depth that has gone into our faith over the years, and to thus incorporate that same knowledge into my own perspectives.  What I now know more fully, I am able to love more fully.  It was a great experience and a great opportunity to be able to live out my faith in the context of my schooling, which is a challenging thing to do nowadays.  I never pictured myself as much of a donor to UC as an alumnus, but a donation that goes specifically to the Program in Catholic Studies is something I could get behind" - Matt, Biomedical Engineering.

From University-Recognized Student Organizations

"We in the UC Society of Saint Paul greatly appreciate the Program in Catholic Studies.  Many Society members have had the privilege of attending courses in the curriculum since the Program's inception.  In addition to teaching us about Catholic beliefs and practices from an academic perspective, these courses have helped students hone their critical thinking, research, reading comprehension, and argumentation skills.  Instruction has also called us to practice the intellectual virtues, such as self-discipline, studiousness, courage, and magnanimity.  The Program has created a positive and dynamic Catholic presence on campus while immeasurably strengthening both our lives of faith and our career preparation.  We owe a sincere debt of gratitude to the Program’s donors for so priceless an education" - Marty Arlinghaus, founding member and Program Coordinator, Society of Saint Paul.

"In their document "Empowered by the Spirit," the U.S. Bishops declare that one of the goals of campus ministry, especially on a secular campus, is to share information about the faith.  By inviting our campus ministry team to lecture in one of the courses, the Catholic Studies Program gives us a chance to help students understand the Catholic tradition as it might relate to their chosen area of study.  We have encouraged our students to register for classes in the Program by having Professor Zalar speak at our dinners or after Mass.  We have also collaborated on the Conway Lecture Series.  We want to send our graduates into the world fully formed in their faith.  Although the Program in Catholic Studies is academically focused, it has helped us perform our mission more effectively" - Michael Schreiner, MDiv., Catholic Campus Minister, St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center.