Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What Do We Mean by the Humanities?

The lack of interest in studying the humanities is the  reason for the many crises in society today, according to a professor emeritus writing in the Kyeongyang magazine. He even fears to read the newspapers, he says, with their many tragic tales of human  suffering. Why the many suicides, the break up of families and the other problems of society which are reported on a daily basis? The bonds that bind the members of a family--love, trust, understanding, sacrifice-- are, he says, as slippery as sand, difficult to hold on to, as we pursue worldly goods and honors.

He quotes Pope Francis: "The crisis is not a crisis of finances, or of culture but  the crisis of being humans. Persons have fallen into crisis; we are destroying ourselves." The professor lists the many reasons he feels that these words speak the truth. Our culture should be helping us to attain a fuller life; however, money and ideology  are putting on their armor and facing each other with violence.

We know what is happening to our environment: the waste products of industrialization have contaminated our ground, our water, our atmosphere, and is causing the disappearance of many animal species. Nietzsche is quoted as saying that humankind will remain as a useless virus on the face of the earth. There are those that agree with him, says the professor. These are just a few of the negative results of our material development.

Our culture is changing us, and not for the better. The professor divides our history into four periods: the ancient, the middle ages, the modern, and the present period. Each period had a particular method of education. The ancient Greeks and Romans aimed at bringing about a unity of mind and body, the cultivation, disciplining and improvement of the self.

During the middle ages, there was an emphasis away from attending to the needs of the individual to focusing more on achieving a relationship with God and religion. On the way to God, we are, he says, pilgrims in pursuit of understanding with faith, building character as we endeavor to lead a life of faith. 

During the modern era, Europe went through great changes. The fighting among Christians brought about a devastation that brought despair to the lives of many. We went from God being the center of our lives to placing humanity once again in the center. With the Renascence, there was a return to the ancient times of the Greeks and Romans, and a desire to rebuild the dignity of the person with humanism. This was the beginning of the study of the humanities in college, and those who championed this method of study were called humanists.

Now that we have entered the present times, we are faced with an ongoing clash between divergent cultures and civilization, between what we are and what we have. We can no longer insist on one culture, one viewpoint, one way of seeing God or man. We have to learn how to live together.  

Many thinkers acknowledge this situation, and they are looking for another way of being members of the human family. The professor believes we need a global humanities program, and then goes on to outline the Asian understanding of the person. Asia also has had an understanding of the humanities. There was a pattern for the human engraved within us, he says, just as there was a  pattern for the heavens. This division appeared first in the Book of Changes (The I Ching).  "Looking at the heavens we see change, looking at the pattern of humanity we see enlightenment." Asia has a tradition of poetry and ritual. We bring to fruition the pattern of life we have received  by the life of truth and virtue.

In conclusion, he doesn't want Asia to follow along the path taken by the West. The West, he says, was interested in the intellect as seen from the male perspective. They forgot that women made up half of the world's population and that 70 percent live in the East.

The study of the humanities, both in the East and in the West, is to form a mature individual, a whole person. How to form the  mature individual is what it is all about, to build for character. At present Korea has lost the idea of what education is meant to attain. The present aim is to get grades, pass the college entrance exam, make money. It is not interested in the formation of a mature person of character.  It is time to make a change, a global change, in the way we go about educating our children.                                                                                                                                                  


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