This article was posted today over at the blog of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion; it opens as follows, citing a notice of an upcoming talk by the 2012 recipient of the American Academy of Religion’s Excellence in Teaching Award (the article in question is posted lower on the page here):
Although I’m not necessarily in agreement with the direction Amod Lele‘s post takes–e.g., “Public universities exist and should exist because they are a public good – the state subsidizes an activity which would be impossible without it. Among these activities are the transmission of great, valuable ideas from generation to generation, and the continual reinterpretation of those ideas for new and different times. Those are the reasons that the humanities came into being in the first place, and they continue to be the reasons the humanities are valuable now….”–I was nonetheless in agreement with the critique of the Excellent Teacher’s position (one that, as Lele describes it, just gives up by agreeing to assume that monetizing a Humanities degree is the only way to justify its existence).
Better yet, I was surprised to see how similar this unfortunate position was to the one adopted by many of my own colleagues in the Humanities whenever we attend recruiting days for high school seniors who are thinking of coming to the University of Alabama. Their message to the students is usually a variation on the theme of “Yes, you can get into law school with a [insert Humanities Discipline Here].”
Like the blogger, I too think that this position gives up long before the fight ever started. And it is lamentable that this is the most creative thing that colleagues could come up with to persuade someone to consider studying the topic to which they had devoted their own lives and careers.
Without resorting to what amounts to nothing more than sheer assertions concerning the inherent and timeless value of our work, surely we can do better than this, no?