Humanism for the Future

Hello All,

I occasionally experience a twinge of guilt when I think about the Humanities. We are, at this very moment, going through a period of intense change in the standards by which our collective disciplines are judged, and the role that we are expected to play within a rapidly changing humanities. But what am I doing to promote and preserve our discipline for the future? Surely sitting in the sidelines doing my PhD does not give me to right to gripe and carp and moan about the dubious future of both my job prospects and of the Arts? How can I put my money where my mouth is and fight for my discipline? Furthermore, what skills does the warrior-academic of the future require in order to carve a bloody swathe through the bureaucrats and penny pinchers, the pressure of the insatiable market and dubious business priorities? I often feel that, rather than sitting back and bemoaning the decline of our discipline, the next generation of scholars will  increasingly be called upon to fight for relevance.

But what traits will make a Historian or a Literary Critic or a Philosopher relevant in the 21st century? What skills will make us effective? My belief, growing in strength with time, is that we need to recall the idea of the Litterae Humaniores, the humane letters, upon which the Liberal Arts are based. We must become conscious that we are both humanists and intellectuals, and that we have the role of teaching the human race to be human now and in the future. Hardly original stuff, but what path ought a twenty-something year old PhD student take on his path to efficacy? I have a vision of becoming the intellectual that I have always wanted to be. Somebody who attempts at all times to uphold the values of the Humanistic education, and to actively teach these to others.

But what is required of a Humanist in the new century? To my mind, it is our role to bring context to debates such as climate change, to guide and shape human interconnectivity and to nurture cultural change and growth. A variety of new courses have appeared in recent years that seem to cater for this role. I feel that this new drive will come from a convergence of people, ideas and resources into new nodes. Hence the new notion of the Centre of Excellence, or the Excellence Cluster, or the Knowledge Centre so popular in the modern university and in government policy The U.N. Mandated University for Peace offers Masters in ‘peace studies’ from its Costa Rica campus, bringing students from all over the world together in a common cause. Even at the local level, my university now has a Centre of Integrated Human Studies. Academic structures are changing and warping to fit new challenges, and frankly this excites me more than I can say. I wholly applaud this created proto-structure, for it brings together ideas from diverse disciplines. I want to be part of this process, to be an engaged and public scholar who reaches out, who forms connections, who inhabits multiple disciplines, and who pools knowledge for the advancement of society.

What do you think, readers? Do you have a strategy for engaging with the future? I’d love to hear from you.

Until Next Time,

James

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