The humanities are academic fields of learning that study the human conditions. The humanities generally include history, languages and linguistics, literature, philosophy, religion, performing arts, and visual arts. They are distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of natural and social sciences by emphasizing the understanding and interpretation of the meaning in history, culture, and literature.
The study of the humanities has been the basis of higher education, especially in the West. Believing in the notion of a broad liberal arts education, many American institutions require their undergraduate student to study the humanities in addition to their specific area of study. Most Korean universities also adopted a similar policy by offering an extensive core curriculum in literature, history, philosophy, and the arts for students of all majors.
However, in recent years many Korean universities have started to emphasize the immediate economic profit from academic scholarship and research, and demanded even for the humanities to justify their existence based on the applicability of their disciplines the world outside of the university. As the number of enrollments and concentrations in the humanities has decreased with more students being interested in professional institutions such as law schools, business schools, and medical schools, the humanities now face a unprecedented crisis in Korea.
Responding to this changing environment, the College of Humanities of Chungnam National University launched a public lecture series in the humanities in 2005 and named it as Daejeon Humanities Forum. More than seventy renowned "humanities" of our country, including leading historians, philosophers, poets, priests, art critics, movie directors, and performing artists, have shared their insightful knowledge of the human nature with the public audience of college students and interested citizens. This forum has so far been very successful, offering a great venue for experiencing the essential importance of the humanities in our everyday life.
Similar public lecture series in the humanities have blossomed in Korea in the past few years, as the interests in the humanities by corporate executives, entrepreneurs, engineers, and other professionals, as well as the general public, increased at the moment of social, cultural, financial, or spiritual crisis. Many publications in the humanities, once seen as useless or outdated, are now among the best-selling book lists. This sudden awareness of the significance of the humanities is sometimes called as "the renaissance of the humanities." While some universities still try to shut down unpopular departments of humanistic fields, others try to go back to basics and emphasize the education of core curriculum of the disciplines of the humanities. Some scholars also acknowledge the major role of the humanities in providing rich and diverse cultural contents for the development of the popular "Korean Wave" cultural phenomena, which spread not only to the neighboring countries of japan and China, but to all over the world.
The humanities may not provide the immediate useful skills or economic returns in an increasingly technological and business-oriented world. They, however, help us develop personal identity and consciousness by understanding the personal and communal experience of the past and the present. The humanities also offer a unique kind of pleasure based on the common pursuit of knowledge and humanistic understanding of the human beings. The humanities ultimately help us understand our world, reshape our mind and spirituality, and broaden the horizon of our imaginative capability. The humanities will enable us to find solutions to such fundamental questions as "how to live a meaningful life," "how to build a better world," and "how to understand the world in which we live." Thus, all college students should try to experience various fields of the humanities during their four years of education in order to enrich their life in the future.
By Yangjin Pak Professor of Dept. of Archaeology
FACULTY EDITORIAL -
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