Monday, May 10, 2010

Cuts in the Humanities -- Sightings

When education budgets get cut, the arts and the humanities are the first to get put on the chopping block.  My son was in band during his school years, and I saw how precarious things were.  Now, it appears that humanities are at stake at higher levels of education.  Humanities is, as Martin Marty notes, a fairly broad category that includes the very things I study -- religion and history.  He notes that University of Chicago professor Martha Nussbaum believes that the current crisis in the humanities is a threat to democracy.  They both make a pretty good case.  Indeed, we can see the problems already in the decreasing understandings of history and religion in our context.  Take a look, offer your thoughts, on Marty's reflections.

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Sightings 5/10/10



Cuts in the Humanities
 
-- Martin E. Marty

“Why Cuts in Humanities Teaching Pose a Threat to Democracy Itself” is the subhead for an article titled “Skills for Life” in the April 30th Times Literary Supplement, authored by the University of Chicago’s (and the world’s) Martha Nussbaum. Such headlines can evoke everything from an “Oh, come now!” to a yawn among those who are not professionals in the Humanities, or those who are oblivious of them, which often seem to be “almost everybody.” And they raise the question: “What does that have to do with ‘public religion’," which we keep in our sights for Sightings? In a world of religion-connected explosions and conflicts, why sit back for a week and take on such a quiet, scholarly subject?

“Humanities” officially belongs in our scope since 1965 when President Johnson signed into law a bill creating the National Endowment for the Humanities, in which Congress listed “literature, history, languages, archaeology, philosophy,” et cetera, including “comparative religion.” We were not all sure what that two-word discipline included, recalling Archbishop William Temple’s quip that “there is no such thing as comparative religion; there are only people who are comparatively religious.” Still, we all snuggled under the tent-roof of the Humanities, seeing religious studies prosper a little bit and religion find some place in public programs nationally and in all fifty states. And now?

“We are in the midst of a crisis of massive proportions and grave global significance. I do not mean the global economic crisis…I mean a crisis that goes largely unnoticed, but is likely to be, in the long run, far more damaging to the future of democratic self-government, a worldwide crisis in education,” which hits the humanities hardest. A crisis worse than the economic one? Again, “Oh, come now, Professor Nussbaum!” Is she crying wolf? I was on the Commission on the Humanities between 1978 and 1980, and got used to seeing the words “Crisis in…” always connected with the noun “the Humanities.” This time is it worse, is it scarier? Nussbaum makes her case.

Some of the crisis is within the Humanities, as critics among the disciplines question the turns some of them have taken toward post-modern nihilism and anti-humanism. But while the professors are fighting among themselves over such, colleges and universities are cutting back hiring, budgets, curricula, and set-priorities in them globally. As Nussbaum shows, much of the higher academic redirection is motivated by societal interest in developing nothing but market-ready professions, to prepare citizenries for soulless if technologically adept and sophisticated cultures. There is a low premium placed on wider and deeper forms of knowledge. Nussbaum: “Knowledge is no guarantee of good behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior.”

Relevant to our subject, she adds: “Responsible citizenship…requires the ability…to appreciate the complexities of the major world religions.” Some Americans talk a good line about such matters, and others find it opportune to dis-appreciate such complexities of all religions but one’s own – attacking one or another of them as “evil” and wicked, from top to bottom, thus promoting ignorance and hatred, which exacerbate conflict. “Today we still maintain that we like democracy and self-governance, and we also think that we like freedom of speech, respect for difference, and understanding of others. We give these values lip service, but we think far too little about what we need to do in order to transmit them to the next generation and ensure their survival.” Time to hug your English teachers or philosophers, and support them, against all odds? Yes.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.


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In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Web Forum editor emeritus Spencer Dew explores the relationship between Jack Kerouac’s religious thought and its expressive practice in the act of writing: “Indeed, his entire oeuvre can be read as an expression of his personal religious stance, a kind of ‘fusion’ of Catholic theology with notions taken from Buddhist philosophy and practice.” Through a close reading of Kerouac’s novella Tristessa, Dew suggests that such a fusion—despite exemplifying Kerouac at his writerly best—leads to a solipsism that is ethically troubling, and likely reflective of Kerouac’s personal and professional shortcomings—especially later in his life. “Devotion to Solipsism: Religious Thought and Practice in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa,” with invited responses from Benedict Giamo (University of Notre Dame), Nancy Grace (College of Wooster), Sarah Haynes (University of Western Illinois), Kurt Hemmer (Harper College), Amy Hungerford (Yale University), Omar Swartz (University of Colorado, Denver), Matt Theado (Gardner-Webb University), and Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College).


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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

20 comments:

Gary said...

If they are going to cut funding for the study of philosophy/religion, that should, by all rights, include the study of evolution, since evolution is philosophy, not science.

Glenn said...

Gary,

What conditions define the difference between philosophy and science?

Gary said...

Glenn,

Science is observable, testable, objectively proveable, or falsifiable.

Glenn said...

Gary,

I would mostly agree with your definition of science, except for the objectively provable condition since no scientific theory (including gravity) can ever be considered proved. But I would agree that in order for something to be considered a scientific field of study, the body of knowledge must stand up to repeated testing through the use the of scientific method which consists of 1. Hypothesis 2. Predictions 3. Experiments 4. Evaluation and Improvement of Hypothesis. By your own definition, Evolution is a scientific field of study because it can be tested, the evidences can be observed and most importantly it could be falsified in any number of ways. For example, Evolution depends upon variation, heritability and selection. A scientist who wanted to make a name for himself could bring the theory of evolution crashing down by showing that either mutations don't occur, mutations occur but aren't passed down through generations, mutations are passed down but couldn't produce the sort of phenotypic changes that drive natural selection or that natural selection and environmental pressures don't favor the reproductive success of better adapted individuals. Now we could argue back and forth about whether or not the available evidence supports the theory of evolution or not, but because those evidences are observable, testable and most importantly FALSIFIABLE, it places evolution in the scientific, not philosophical field. On a side note regarding the back and forth that you recently had with Robert, I think that your last several posts, including this one, demonstrate an ability to get your opinions across without resorting to insults or condemnation and I wanted to give credit where credit is due.

John said...

Gary,

So science teachers should not mention any theories whatsoever? Or refrain from mentioning only those theories which make some people nervous? Should the school boards take a vote on which theories get mentioned in science classes?

Gary, I have to say this: sooner or later you are going to have to come to terms with the possibility that God can do all things and do them in any way God chooses, and not only by ways which you believe it was done.

God created a universe that incorporates gravity and electro-magnetic energy, and sub-atomic particles and genetic structures, and God created humans in such a way that organ transplants are a viable treatment option. God created a universe with stars and galaxies that humans would not comprehend for thousands of years and not without instruments which the first humans could never have conceived of. God created particles of matter so small humans will never be able to do more then guess at their size, position, movement and the role they play in the manifestation of matter and energy.

Why is it such a stumbling block for you that some Christians feel that it is within God's power to employ evolutionary processes in generation and manifestation of biological life on earth? God repeatedly says 'believe in me and follow my commandments and you will enter into my kingdom'. He never adds a requirement that you reject evolution as possible option in God's biological toolbox.

I can accept that you believe in your heart and soul that evolution was not a method employed by God. That is a fact you embrace with as much certainty as you accept the truth that God loves you. But does your belief in the truth of these facts include a mandate that everyone else must also share these beliefs? And to the same depth and degree that you do?

There is a saying (by Augustin, I think): in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all, charity. Is rejection of evolution an essential?

For me, the understanding that God would choose to effectuate the creation of humanity through the vehicle of evolution has operated to strengthens my faith in God and further astound me as to God's incomprehensible awesomeness. Is that so dangerous?

John

John said...

Gary,

I meant to say that you (and I) have to come to terms with the fact that God can surprise us.

John

David Mc said...

Excellent tutorial on the scientific method. Of course, philosophy and science were once one in the same, before rigorous methods were applied.

science = knowledge (Latin).

philosophy = love of knowledge (Greek).

Gary said...

John,

Science teachers should just tell the truth. They should not confuse facts with speculation.

I have already come to terms with the fact that God can do whatever He wants, however He wants. But I also know that God does not say He did something one way, when He actually did it another way. If God employed evolution he could just as easily have said so in Scripture.

I'm curious as to why you, and others, would believe the Bible when it says God loves you, but you won't believe it when it says that God made man out of dust on the sixth day of the creation week?

John said...

Gary,

What is dust? What is a day?

As humans perceive reality with 5 flawed senses and never grasp the reality of a thing or even a concept, all attempts to define, quantify, describe, predict, and test are at best approximations, guesses, and speculations. The more reliable speculation is reproduceable, but still just speculation.

What then should teachers teach?

John

Gary said...

John,

Dust is fine dirt. A day is the twenty-four hour period during which the earth completes one rotation on its axis.

It isn't speculation to teach that 16 ounces equals one pound, or that water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius, or that the moon revolves around the earth. There is much science that can be taught without claiming that guesses are proven fact.

John said...

Gary

Those are your perceptions informed by today's theories, but it wasn't always so. For your Adam and Eve and for those who wrote the Bible the earth did not rotate on its axis, nor did the moon orbit the Earth, nor was the Earth round. A day then was perhaps as long as a day now, but how it was measured was very different.

"God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

From Genesis itself one may reasonably conclude that according to God, a Day only includes that period where the light of the sun shines. The rest is Night. So a Day can be as short or as long as the sun shines in the latitude where you are.

When I put that kind of uncertainty together with my belief that Genesis tells truths, leads me to believe that the truths are theological and not scientific.

But I really don't want to debate science or even Genesis I just felt I had to show that even in your certainty there were clear approximations.

John

Gary said...

John,

You greatly underestimate Adam. Adam very likely had the highest I.Q. of any man who ever lived, with the possible exception of Jesus Christ.

You also don't know what Adam knew. And why do you think that Adam, or the Biblical writers thought the earth was flat? There isn't anything in the Bible that says that.

The Jews day begins at 6 p.m., but it is still 24 hours long.

Why would you believe the "theological truths" from Genesis, but disregard the history? If the history isn't true, the theology can't be trusted.

Anonymous said...

"Adam very likely had the highest I.Q. of any man who ever lived"

Adam didn't know he was naked and ate the forbidden fruit. How smart could he have been?

John said...

Gary,

There is no significant evidence that Adam was unusually smart. The snake was craftier, and Eve was more curious (usually a sign of intelligence); Adam knew nothing of good and evil.

There is simply no way that one such as Adam could know that the earth was not flat unless God told him so. He had no geographical frame of reference, no historical record of celestial observations, and no instruments to measure by.

As for evidence that the Biblical writers thought the world was flat, I can point to the creation story of Genesis itself. Genesis says that God formed a dome over the earth to separate the waters, and the dome was called "the sky". The existence of a dome (presumably hemispherical in shape) and a spherical earth make no sense - what happens to the bottom half. Genesis says that on the third day (before he installed the sun in the dome of the sky - critical for the process of photosynthesis) God placed vegetation on the earth "The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it".

On the forth day God installed the sun in the daytime sky and the moon and the stars in the nighttime sky to be lights upon the earth. It does not mention the existence of billions of stars too far to be seen or what their purpose might be.

This cosmology is not consistent with a notion that the sun, moon, stars, or the earth are spheres or that the earth actually rotates on it axis or that it revolves around the sun. Then there is the story from Joshua Ch 10, where the sun and moon "stood still", and the sun "stopped in midheaven" for a whole day.

All of this language is consistent with the notion that the earth is flat and inconsistent with the fact that the earth is a sphere which rotates on its axis and revolves around the sun which itself is just another star in a star-filled universe.

But certainly all of this information from the Bible is neither history nor science, but metaphor. I agree.

John

Gary said...

John,

I disagree with all of your interpretations and conclusions.

David Mc said...

Days are getting longer, rather than shorter, since we're gradually slowing down in our orbit. Or, maybe when the thing that smashed into us to make the moon sped us up?

There is scientific theory that amino acids (peptides) polymerized (to make polypeptides = proteins)on alumino-silicate (clay) templates.

The early blueprint(s) of our blueprint very likely were in particular forms of clay.

Do I have less faith in understanding these things?

Anonymous said...

Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian

10 - You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

9 - You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

8 - You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

7 - Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

6 - You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

5 - You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

4 - You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs -- though excluding those in all rival sects - will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

3 - While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

2 - You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

1 - You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history - but still call yourself a Christian.

John said...

Gary,

Fair enough. Before we move on to the next dialogue, let me say this: I find the strength of your faith convictions, if not their content, praiseworthy.

If I could change one thing and only one thing which appears to be a component of your belief system, it would be that I could persuade you to agree that God can and will save as many of God's children as possible, not based upon anything they have done, believed, or said, but just because God loves them so much that God cannot bear to lose them.

John

Gary said...

John,

Do you mean that it isn't possible that God will save everyone? Who gets left out?

John said...

Gary,

I don't know. It is possible that all will be saved. It is also possible that some or perhaps most will not be saved. As to who would be "left behind", I cannot imagine, nor would I wish to guess - I don't want to participate in such hopelessness or in such judgmentalism - not that I am above it, but I try to avoid it when I can.

I believe that God desires to save all, and all I can do is pray that God finds a way to make that happen. Whether that happens, and how God makes it happens, is wholly within God's power.

John