Relaying the importance of the humanities

Michael Bérubé, director of the institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, came to Wilfrid Laurier University to give a lecture revolving around the importance of the humanities

On March 21, Michael Bérubé, director of the institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, came to Wilfrid Laurier University to give a lecture revolving around the importance of the humanities. His presentation, titled “The Value – and the Values – of the Humanities” also discussed literary and cultural theory and why it is worth studying, universalism and justifying these topics.

Bérubé stated that those who study “the arts and humanities [are] under a shadow … [that gives us a] loss of prestige and the sense that we have to justify what it is we do”.

He told the audience that people studying the arts and humanities have been going unnoticed, are under-appreciated and often have to justify their studies.

“In 20 years, mark my words, we will be living in a utopia,” he said. “And we will still be asking ourselves, can the humanities be justified?”

Bérubé implied that those who study arts and humanities are seen as inferior when compared to those who study science or business.

“In the [United States], 8 per cent of undergrad degrees were awarded in the arts in 1980, in 2010 it was 80 per cent”, he said.

Unfortunately, he added, that in those “30 years, people [are still] being told [that a humanities degree] gets you a ‘do you want fries with that?’ job”.

Bérubé also addressed a wide variety of topics including disabilities, the study of humanities and an essay by Judith Butler on what makes the universal.

“I believe with all my heart that arguing about things like [the universal] is precisely what we should be doing, this learning, debating and history of universalist aspirations and the challenges to those aspirations with reference to gender, sexuality, race, disability and nationality,” he said. “It is honestly what gets me out of bed in the morning. I think it is a form of wisdom to a deeper understanding of human affairs.”

Bérubé aspired that his presentation would inspire those who studied, are studying or plan to study in the arts and humanities to believe that they do contribute to society and to the world as a whole.

“If you divide up the world, as its usually done between the sciences and humanities, the sciences get brute fact and we get social fact,” he explained.

Bérubé ended the lecture by saying that “it will not suffice to see the humanities as the study of fine objects and timeless truths.”

“Instead we should see the humanities as the study of what it means, has meant and might yet mean to be human in a world where the human itself is a variable term, with its definition challenged time and time again. What we offer is not the prospect of a better life or a happier life but the promise of an examined life,” he added.

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