Preparing for Your Seminar


The heart of Classical Pursuits small, skilfully led seminar discussions, whether online or in person. In these discussions we wrestle with our questions to help one another better understand a book, essay, painting, or piece of music, and, ultimately, to make personal meaning from what we have read, seen, heard, and discussed. There are many ways to lead a seminar, but at Classical Pursuits we generally follow the model of Shared Inquiry™. You can find more info on how we use Shared Inquiry at Classical Pursuits here.


Through the Shared Inquiry method developed by the Great Books Foundation, participants help one another think through possible answers to the fundamental questions raised by a work. Participants bring their unique ways of viewing the selection and then build on their views as they share ideas. A Shared Inquiry discussion is also defined by the skill with which participants listen to one another.

Different leaders have different styles within the Shared Inquiry model, and depending on the leader and the work(s) being discussed, the balance between active discussion and leader-provided commentary will vary across seminars. In the months before Toronto Pursuits, or the weeks before your online seminar, you will receive more detailed information from your seminar leader about what you can expect. Regardless of style, the leader’s goal is not to reach consensus on a single “correct” understanding. The works we examine are compelling, in part, precisely because they continue to afford multiple conflicting and ambiguous meanings.


Leaders come from various backgrounds and disciplines. Some are professors or work year-round in liberal arts education at organizations such as the Great Books Foundation, but others are architects, lawyers and musicians. All leaders undergo training in Shared Inquiry, and they are chosen for both their knowledge of a subject and their ability to guide through questions. Our leaders do not “profess” the meaning of a book, painting, or opera. Their principal role is to help participants discover for themselves its deeper meanings.


If this is your first time at a Classical Pursuits program, you may be worried that the texts will be too difficult or that you will be surrounded by a bunch of PhDs who are experts in the seminar topic. Not so! Participants, like leaders, come from all kinds of backgrounds. Everyone is there to learn from each other, think critically, and have fun, not to show off what they know.

The only prerequisites are to read before you arrive and come with an open mind. That being said, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your seminar discussions.


You are encouraged to read in what may be a new way for you.

  • Give yourself time to read the assigned texts carefully, taking notes and forming questions as you read. A second reading is even better.
    • During your first reading, just concentrate on the overall scope of the work.
    • During your second reading, concentrate on specific portions of the work that interest or puzzle you, analyzing and relating them to the argument or story as a whole.
      • For a work of fiction, ask yourself why characters act as they do and why events or conclusions follow one another.
      • For a work of nonfiction, sort out the terms and structure of the author’s argument.
  • Locate passages that sum up the author’s argument or eloquently express an idea that seems central to the text.
  • Jot down your insights, questions, and arguments with the author.

Learning about Shared Inquiry

The Great Books Foundation has many resources available to you, whether you are new to Shared Inquiry or you just want to brush up. We encourage you to visit the Great Books Foundation webpage on Shared Inquiry and watch the series of short videos about how discussions work, particularly the videos on the importance of evidence to support your points and the role of collaboration.