Politicians continue to attack the Humanities and Social Sciences, most recently the governor of North Carolina reportedly asserted, “I don’t want to subsidize that [gender studies] if that’s not going to get someone a job.” While other posts on this blog (for example “You Just Watch Me” and “I Wonder What Caitlin Makes”) have challenged the assumption that Humanities and Social Science graduates have problems with employment, particular aspects of current public discourse clearly suggest that the skills that majors in the Humanities and Social Sciences hone need more attention.
As an example, the recent spate of articles on the “Nones” that followed the Pew Research findings last October, which suggested that more people select “no religious affiliation” than ever before, have been problematic. Numerous accounts, including items posted on CNN and the New York Times have conflated the “Nones” with humanists, atheists, and agnostics, even though the Pew Report, and often the details in the articles themselves, clearly state that the majority of “Nones” express some belief in God or some other Higher Power, and thus do not self-identify as atheists or humanists. This conflation reifies the group now known as Nones and fails to analyze critically those who make such conflations, whether they are journalists themselves or the leaders of particular organizations who might want to use the Nones to promote their own interests and conceptions.
Various scholars of religion, including myself, have presented analyses of the relevance of the survey data and the dynamics involved in the depiction of the “Nones” as a group (see “Creatio ex Nihilo” and “The Return of the Nones”). These more nuanced analyses reflect the value of scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences for addressing social dynamics that become significant components of discourse on the contemporary United States. But more importantly, the skills in critical thought, careful construction of arguments, and reflection on the complexity of processes of identification, which Humanities and Social Sciences majors often develop, are vital components of a rich public discourse that are too often undeveloped in the contemporary newsmedia. Perhaps the newsmedia and particular politicians should hire more Humanities and Social Science majors.