Humanities as a subjectThe breadth of the humanities as a topic of study poses a challenge filled with both risk and great potential for learning.
To attempt to study the field of human creativity and intellectual life as a whole is a mistake if one proceeds in the manner of a specialist, but this is not our method or goal.
Rather, students in humanities may expect:
- Exposure to a variety of representative problems in the history and contemporary scene of human culture;
- Education in significant methods and modes of interpretation that apply to a range of such problems; and
- Engagement in an ongoing discussion concerning major values and human trends.
The humanities concern the human condition, past, present, and future. The human condition includes the natural world of which we are a part and from which we have distinguished ourselves, as well as the social, economic, and cultural worlds we create.
Studying the human condition involves anthropological and historical inquiries into our past, as well as sociological, economic, and political studies of the present, and hypotheses about the future, utopian or dystopian.
Philosophy, as the study of the shapes of perception, thought, and action, together with literary, linguistic, and folkloric studies of language and communication, inform our understanding of human expression and behavior. Study of the humanities thus appeals both to our ordinary intellectual curiosity as well as to more refined interests in forms of instruction and research unrestricted by disciplinary bounds (though made possible, on most occasions, by such disciplinary training).
The plastic, malleable character of being and becoming human (if not post-human, as some urge) is made obvious today in daily news concerning innovations in information science and genetic and other forms of biological engineering.
Study of the humanities is an urgent, pressing concern precisely because our power to alter human nature is unprecedented and appears unlimited. Critical, broad, thoughtful reflection on humanity, humanism, and the human may offer a sensible way out of the quietism associated with global economic, scientific, and technological power.