Where Are They Now?

USSupremeCourtNow there’s a rag-tag group of undergraduate liberal arts majors, if ever I saw one.

Samuel Alito, B.A. in Public & International Affairs (Princeton University 1972)
Stephen Breyer, B.A. in Philosophy (Stanford University, 1959)
Ruth Bader Ginzburg, B.A. in Government (Cornell University, 1954)
Elena Kagan, B.A. in History (Princeton University, 1981)
Anthony Kennedy, B.A. in Political Science (Stanford University, 1958)
John Roberts, A.B. in History (Harvard College, 1976)
Antonin Scalia, B.A. in History (Georgetown University, 1957)
Sonia Sotomayor, B.A. in History (Princeton University, 1976)
Clarence Thomas, A.B. in English (Holy Cross, 1971)

They seem to have made something of themselves, given that they now get to decide on the parameters of our entire society; so maybe you can make something of yourself too, when you major in the Humanities. (This is the first in what will become an ongoing series, coz you never know who started out as a liberal arts major.)

The Difficult Art

Picture 4“What we labor at together in college is the production of individuals who know not only that the world is far more complex than it first appears, but also that, therefore, interpretative decisions must be made, decisions of judgment which entail real consequences for which one must take responsibility, from which one may not flee by the dodge of disclaiming expertise. This ultimately political quest for paradigms, for the acquisition of the powers and skills of informed judgment, for the dual capacities of appreciation and criticism, might well stand as the explicit goal of every level of the college curriculum. The difficult art of making interpretative decisions and facing up to their full consequences ought to inform each and every course, each and every object of study. This is the work of education, it is also the work of the world and of life. Let students and the public and, above all, the faculty be told this clearly. This is the only sort of work for which college trains. It is more than enough.”

– from Jonathan Z. Smith’s “Puzzlement” (1986), republished in On Teaching Religion (2013: 127; edited by Christopher Lehrich)


Study the Humanities and Save America

I came across the above tweet last week and it made me smile. Jack Bauer, the main character in the FOX television show 24, earned his bachelor’s degree in English literature from UCLA. On one level, it became an interesting answer to, “what can you do with a humanities degree?” You can save the free world, that’s what. Continue reading

No One Has a Monopoly on Teaching Critical Thinking

meanlsatupgaapp2013Yesterday my colleague Steven Ramey posted about a recent study of those who took the 2013 Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) — their undergraduate GPA, their undergraduate major, and their LSAT score. The means for each major were then graphed (above), with undergrad GPA on the vertical axis and LSAT score on the horizontal, making Classics majors (far top right corner) the highest preforming by both measures.

But you may notice that Religious Studies majors are also near the front of the pack (near the top right of the graph). Their LSAT score is just a little off the leader pack, yes, but their GPA makes them stand out — combined, they’re apparently strong contenders for law school.

The actual data is as follows (in which n = the number of people in each major): Continue reading

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 fromĀ “discovering how the world works” and emphasizes the need to adjust as technological innovation makes some training obsolete very quickly. Continue reading

“The Stories of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated…”

Picture 3Seen this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education? Give it a read and ask yourself why — if this is what the public actually thinks — we all seem to assume that there’s a crisis in the liberal arts?

That is, if the skills taught all across the liberal arts are so essential (read the results [PDF] of the study for yourself) then why do we all seem to agree so easily that they are so non-essential — i.e., that they deserve budget cuts, that they are not relevant, that you won’t get a job if you know how to use and apply them…?

Might the stories of the liberal arts’ irrelevance be greatly exaggerated and, perhaps, in the service of other fields or social forces…?

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi

One of the curious items from today’s announcement from the Vatican that Pope Benedict XVI will be stepping down at the end of February was that he made his announcement, at a meeting of Cardinals, in Latin. So few reporters there understood Latin that it gave quite a competitive advantage to Giovanna Chirri, who works for ANSA (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata), Italy’s main news wire service. As noted on the UK’s The Guardian real-time news blog: Continue reading

Greg Johnson on the Real World in Real Time

On November 6, 2012, the second lecture in the 2012-13 series was presented by Prof. Greg Johnson, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His lecture–entitled, “In the Moment: The Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences for the Study of Religion in Real Time”–opened by reflecting on the “Studying Religion in Culture” motto of UA’s Department of Religious Studies and then moved on to examining the manner in which ongoing debates and legal contests in Hawaii over contemporary indigenous people’s rights and ancestral remains present the scholar of religion with an opportunity to study religion both in the skin and in the bone, as he phrased it, i.e., examining, “in real time,” the manner in which it is performed/enacted both in more flamboyant, public settings (e.g., organized protests) and also in a more behind-the-scenes, structural manner (e.g., people attending hearings and meetings, taking minutes, filing legal briefs and court challenges, etc., all in the context of operationalizing the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990).

After examining two case studies from Hawaii he turned his concluding attention toward linking his approach to studying religion, politics, and identity, toward the theme of this year’s lecture series. Prof. Johnson kindly provided his unpublished text to the Department and so the conclusion in posted below. Continue reading