What About Research?

In many of the discussions of the relevance of higher education, assertions about the benefits of research usually focus on life-saving developments in the natural sciences. These research outcomes, and all of the failed projects that it takes to produce a major discovery, are extremely important, and such projects receive the bulk of private and public funding. In the midst of the various defenses of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the lack of discussion of the research that scholars in these fields conduct is disappointing, as many of us spend a significant portion of our work conducting research that has positive benefits that we need to articulate more clearly.

As most scholars are certainly cognizant, contemporary research in any field is developed from the results from prior generations of scholars. So, the relevance of a somewhat obscure study of nineteenth century religious conflicts in India should not be isolated from the range of studies on religious conflicts that have led, in my own understanding and current project, to a more critical understanding of the politics of religious labels and the influence that rhetoric about religious communities has on social, political, and even military decisions. Judging the relevance of an individual study, therefore, can be difficult, as it is difficult sometimes, especially when starting a project, to see its outcome, as well as its intersection with other studies that may come afterwards. Despite these difficulties, articulating the relevance of an individual study or an intersecting group of studies is possible, as in my example above.