The Practical Humanities


Did you see this recent post from the former CEO of Seagram Corporation entitled “Business and the Liberal Arts”? In it he advises students to pursue a major in the Liberal Arts rather than “pragmatically oriented majors” such as Business or Computer Science. He explains,

For all of the decisions young business leaders will be asked to make based on facts and figures, needs and wants, numbers and speculation, all of those choices will require one common skill: how to evaluate raw information, be it from people or a spreadsheet, and make reasoned and critical decisions. The ability to think clearly and critically — to understand what people mean rather than what they say — cannot be monetized, and in life should not be undervalued. In all the people who have worked for me over the years the ones who stood out the most were the people who were able to see beyond the facts and figures before them and understand what they mean in a larger context.

He further describes the adaptability that comes from “discovering how the world works” and emphasizes the need to adjust as technological innovation makes some training obsolete very quickly.

What, though, does he mean by the Liberal Arts? The examples that he raises throughout the post, such as studying history (his undergraduate major), analyzing poetry, engaging the arts, and considering the abstract, fall within what many of us identify as the Humanities. Even more, the skills that he emphasizes are the skills that many of our graduates in Religious Studies at Alabama describe as the value of their degree. Not the knowledge about a ritual practice or a theory about religion but the ability to analyze information, understand how social systems operate, compile information to address a problem or opportunity, and think critically and creatively. In that sense, Religious Studies should be viewed as a pragmatic major for students interested in any number of life opportunities.