This semester at Lewis we are featuring a series of interrelated events under the rubric of “A Celebration of Humanities.” What are the humanities? While this seems a self-evident question at a liberal arts university, it is not at all evident that our students come here with an appreciation of the humanities disciplines. As a first step, we’ve identified, actually labeled with the great H logo, those events that qualify. Students thus can say; “Ah, a poetry reading! That’s a humanities event.” The net is cast wide: we have programming in literature, music, art, history, theology and philosophy. The professoriate understands the commonality, but we are no longer convinced that our students do. So, if we want to promote the value of a humanities, liberal arts education, surely one of our tasks is to assure that our students know the texture, quality and content of those types of events?
And there is panic in the academy, a sense that in the rush for STEM topics, in the emphasis on career building, that we will lose track of the humanities. A national committee on “The Heart of the Matter,” an August article (26 Aug 13) in the “Chronicle of Higher Education” on the crisis in humanities, and “New Yorker” blog by Adam Gopnik (28 Aug 18) are sounding the alarm. But here is a historical perspective: these alarms have been sounding since Late Antiquity as the Roman Empire was waning! Take heart. The humanities are more than the sum of academic departments. The humanities are not for just a single season. Adam understands: “We need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs or kinder C.E.O’s but because they help us enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human. That’s enough.” It is that human dimension that we want to demonstrate in our “Celebration of the Humanities.”