Humanism, Climate Change, UCLA Commencement, studying the humanities should not be a forced conversion road to humanism

Commencement season opens education debate

By —— Bio and Archives--June 18, 2018

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Commencement season opens education debate
Attending a graduation ceremony for children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other sundry relatives is a time for celebration of accomplishment and new beginnings. In these days of politicization of virtually everything, including the air we breathe, it can also be a time of hailing the speakers or seatsquirming, depending on the listeners’ point of view. And when it comes to college commencements, it’s fairly certain which audience members will be cheering or fidgeting and frowning.

Having just driven over a thousand miles to be present at UCLA’s commencement exercise in honor of the last of the sibling’s children walking to receive their undergraduate diploma, I was the one disturbed by some of the professorial maunderings at the podium. No shock there.


Truthfully, it was a relief that none of the speakers went off on a political rampage though the expected reference to man’s responsibility regarding climate change arose. It’s a college. Of course the evil of our time would be on the agenda but no one harped on it.

What was said that caused an eyebrow to lift (Okay, just mine. Everyone else appeared to accept what’s to follow without a twitch.) was the reference to humanism.

Now, it’s highly possible that I’m simply too dense to have ever made the connection but, frankly, I don’t think that’s the case. Never in my educated, adult life have I ever conflated humanities studies with blanket humanism yet this is what the dean of Social Sciences division did.

As one who received an undergraduate and graduate degree in what would be categorized as “the humanities” it never occurred to me that would make me a de facto humanist. Hence the eyebrow raising when the dean, after extolling the merits of his department’s graduates, equated them to humanists. He said bluntly, and after reading more than one college’s clarification of the humanities the confusion is somewhat understandable, that “If you want (blank) done, ask a humanist.” And he filled the blank with any number of social issues that could use solving these days.

According to the 1965 National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act: “The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica explains the volume of studies this way:

Humanities, those branches of knowledge that concern themselves with human beings and their culture or with analytic and critical methods of inquiry derived from an appreciation of human values and of the unique ability of the human spirit to express itself. As a group of educational disciplines, the humanities are distinguished in content and method from the physical and biological sciences and, somewhat less decisively, from the social sciences. The humanities include the study of all languages and literatures, the arts, history, and philosophy. The humanities are sometimes organized as a school or administrative division in many colleges and universities in the United States.”

At UCLA, apparently the humanities are included in the social sciences since it was the dean of that division who referred to his students in this fashion although EB separates the disciplines.

Perhaps this is nitpicking, but to assume that all those who study the humanities are therefore adherents to the humanistic philosophy that refutes God and His creation is going a bit far…

Merriam Webster’s definition of humanism:

“a : devotion to the humanities : literary culture

b : the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance

2 : devotion to human welfare : humanitarianism renowned for his humanism

3 : a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason”

Then again, maybe the dean was referring back to the older definition of humanist as found in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:

“A professor of grammar and rhetoric; a philologist; a term used in the universities of Scotland.

1. One versed in the knowledge of human nature.”

Nah. Having taught alongside so many humanities professors, their leanings are toward the third definition in Merriam Webster’s listed above. If, however, I did indeed misconstrue the dean’s comments it is hoped that he might correct me though it’s unlikely he’ll ever see this column.

Herein lies the point of this minor diatribe. Despite the rise of secular humanism in public and private education since the dawn of the Age of Reason, humanitarian studies were initially conducted to gain a better understanding of what drives culture and constitutes social structure. Certainly in some colleges it was always part of the program to convert students to humanism and the rejection of the “supernatural” as in MW’s definition. However, colleges that began as seminaries and ministerial training grounds, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge to name a few, were steadily redirected to eschewing the God they were founded to serve.

Universities have become a breeding ground for directing students to place faith in human achievements and knowledge (that common sense would delegitimize) in an effort to create an alternate reality that humanity has ultimate power over the natural world—humanism. It is a wonder how the many Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or other devoutly religious graduates might deal with the conferring of this new title. Did they realize that being a humanist basically cancels out their faith in a higher power? (I didn’t mention Christians because university management rarely bothers to recognize them or their faith as valid. Which, for contrarians, would be the justifying factor. If educators think it’s so awfully wrong, well, it must be right.)

There is a happy medium where religious students can and do study the humanities in order to better serve in the world at large, but studying the humanities should not be a forced conversion road to humanism any more than studying Italian language and culture makes you Italian.

If anyone was wondering, there is a place for God in His own Creation.


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A. Dru Kristenev -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Former newspaper publisher, A. Dru Kristenev,  grew up in the publishing industry working every angle of a paper, from ad composition and sales, to personnel management, copy writing, and overseeing all editorial content. During her tenure as a news professional, Kristenev traveled internationally as both a representative of the paper and non-profit organizations.

Since 2007, Kristenev has authored four fact-filled political suspense novels, the Baron Series, and two non-fiction books, all available on Amazon.

ChangingWind (changingwind.org) is a solutions-centered Christian ministry.

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