Why Study the Humanities?
“Twenty years from now there will be with respect to
your education two crucial questions to ask yourself:
first, how well did your University experience awaken
in you a passion for learning? Secondly, how well did
it teach you how to go on educating yourself for the rest
of your life?”
—George C. Connor, The Craft So Long to Learn
What are the Humanities?
Dr. Bill McClay, the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at UTC, observes that the humanities attempt to understand the human condition “from the inside.” The humanities traditionally encompass those disciplines that treat human culture, experience, and perception as an object of study while simultaneously treating the person as a knowing subject, and which pierce to the core of culture and the human condition.
These disciplines include the traditional liberal arts such as philosophy, music, art, literature, religion, ethics, and history; increasingly, the humanities have widened so as to include disciplines such as political science, law, archaeology, and anthropology. These disciplines, often overlooked or undervalued in the Age of Technology and Information, seek to reawaken the wonder of human accomplishment, to sharpen the intellect and to fire the imagination, and to reflect on the perennial questions of human existence: What is the nature of beauty? How does a culture define, express, or represent ultimate reality? What constitutes a just action or society? How do human beings across time and cultures understand happiness or suffering, grapple with notions of good and evil, debate political questions, or interpret and articulate the kaleidoscope of human experience in an incandescent universe?
Read Dr. McClay's essay, The Burden of the Humanities, which was delivered at the 2011 UTC Lecture in the Humanities.
Why study the Humanities?
The nineteenth-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill argues that the undergraduate college ought not to be a place of “professional education.” Instead, he surmises that universities ought to be places that encourage students to become “capable and cultivated human beings.” This may sound outdated, naïve, or perhaps hopelessly idealistic to our postmodern ears, for most students entering college are groomed to pursue an avenue of specialization. But Mill objects that human beings are human beings “before they are lawyers or physicians, or merchants, or manufacturers.” Consequently, Mill reasons that “if you make them capable and sensible” human beings, a goal achieved in part through a strong humanities curriculum, then “they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers or physicians.”
But can someone be a successful and competent lawyer without studying the humanities? Yes. Can someone thrive in business or medicine without the liberal arts? Undoubtedly. But as Mortimer Adler clarifies, we ought not to confuse “the goodness of the operation” with the “goodness of the operator.” How well someone performs a specialization does not equate with how well a person understands the depths of the self, or contemplates the complexities and contradictions, or beauties and terrors, of the world around them.
Potentially, the study of the humanities cultivates that “philosophic habit of mind” of which John Henry Newman speaks—something radically different from an Internet and Information Age which values speed and instant gratification. On the contrary, the humanities typically require slow, sustained deliberation on the fundamental questions of our (or any) age.
What can I do with a Humanities Degree?
Lots o' stuff! A degree in Humanities arms the student with a broad set of skills. It prepares the student as an effective writer and communicator; as a deep thinker who is able to synthesize a vast array of ideas; as a citizen informed of ethic and civic responsibilities; and, as a member of a community or co-worker in business who understands the complexities of human culture from many different angles. The better the student can articulate the kind of career he or she envisions after graduation, the better the student will be equipped in making the curriculum of study choices that matter.
Humanities majors at UTC intend to pursue or are currently pursuing careers in the following fields:
- Advanced degrees in specific disciplines
- Law School
- Medical School
- Dental School
- Program Coordinator for specific non-profit groups
- Church Missions
- U.S. State Department
- International Non-profit
- Professional Writing
- Research and language consultation for businesses
- Teaching English abroad
- Peace Corps
The Humanities Program draws students who are creative, determined, curious, and disciplined: characteristics sought by every employer.