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Linking the humanities


  • Understand and explain how the humanities can serve as a ‘world unifier’
  • Explain the concept of ‘evolution of consciousness’ as it applies to field of humanities
  • Explain the concept of ‘process theory’ as it relates to the field of humanities
  • Demonstrate knowledge of culture in various civilizations as expressed through the visual and performing arts (e.g., painting, sculpture, architecture, music)
  • Critically analyze literature and the visual and performing arts of selected cultures within their historical context
  • Analyze how history and culture have shaped the development of today’s societies

Now that you have read about several different humanities disciplines, you understand some of the questions and arguments that are part of the world’s greatest thinking. In this conclusion, you can synthesize some of what you’ve learned.

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How Are the Humanities Useful?

This thinking sometimes leads to results–as in important political and religious systems or societal and historical change, and especially in the arts. Sometimes such thinking goes nowhere, creating only its own endless circles that critics and thinkers may argue forever.

Most of the people in any one humanities discipline feel comfortable talking about the other humanities disciplines. After all, they all go together. History, philosophy, the study of society and culture, religion, the arts–all depend on each other and interweave their understandings of themselves with their understandings of each other.Be careful, though, if you discover a critic, teacher, or artist in any of the disciplines who tries to tell you that the other branches of the humanities disciplines are less important than his or her own. The humanities are not dead theories. They are parts of the soul of the human race. Just as all parts of one’s own soul are important, so are the all the parts of the soul of our human race.

The humanities reflect the diversity of humanity. No one discipline or field of the humanities is of greater or more powerful importance. One humanities discipline or another may have more weight in a person’s experience than will others. To an artist, art may be all. To a priest or minister, a particular religion may take up all his or her days. And for some of us, the humanities may seem to have no great importance in our lives at all, at least not in our day to day living. Either way, though–whether we are deeply involved in just one discipline of the humanities or ignore them altogether in day-to-day life, still all of them are important to the background, the context, the thread and coloration of our lives. The humanities have shaped the way we live and come together in society, and who we are as individuals in society. They are a part of us.

Linking All the Humanities with Mythology

It can be challenging to consider several ways in which some theorists have tried to unite or link the humanities. These unities, or linkings, are called “field theories”– theories in which a whole field such as the humanities is brought together in one unified pattern.

One such field theory is that of mythology as a world unifier. This theory, discussed earlier in the “Mythology” chapter, is a mixture of history, religion, psychology, culture, and arts. As earlier mentioned, one of the great proponents of this concept of mythology as world unifier is Joseph Campbell. Campbell states, after decades of careful research all over the world, that all the myths of the world have common themes– and all of them may, in fact, spring from one central culture or society in ancient times, before the beginning of recorded history. This would mean that all of our diverse cultures, histories, societies, earliest arts, and even our earliest philosophical and religious yearnings have come from one common, ancient culture.

In short, myths are symbolic of the basic human yearnings and thinking in all cultures of all times, including the present. Venus, for example, is the goddess of love found in most major mythologies of different cultures. She stands for love as typified in the arts, as discussed in philosophy, and as discussed and dealt with in various religions. Zeus is a type of domineering power god found in most major mythologies. These gods are symbolic of important themes of thought and feeling discussed in the humanities.

Evolution of Consciousness

Another linking field theory is of the evolution of consciousness. This theory is a mixture of religions and philosophy. In this viewpoint, all of the movements and disciplines of human beings are an expression of consciousness (awareness) gradually unfolding itself in higher,wider, and more complete ways. In this view, all of evolution–matter, plants and animals, and humans– has a consciousness. In matter it is a barely flickering awareness; in plants it is stronger; in animals consciousness becomes a stronger factor; and in humans it has flowered into its highest achievements yet. In this view, the humanities are forms of study to make us even more conscious–to heighten, deepen, and broaden our awareness of ourselves and others.

Process Theory

A third field theory that has gained some followers is that of process philosophy. This theory is a mixture of principles from philosophy, society and culture, history, and methods used in the arts. They state that the world and human beings always are processing life.

The theory of process states, in its many forms, that everything is in a state of flux and movement. This includes human institutions–all thinking, belief, and action. Whole parts of history, movements of philosophy, social and cultural events, and schools and styles in art all are a constantly intertwining, intermixing series of actions, reactions, and more reactions.

And within this intermixing flux, there is movement. Some of the movement is backward, some forward; but in general we move forward in the very process of trying out more things, reacting to old things, and synthesizing new things. For example, in schools, for hundreds of years, students had very formal lessons in which everyone does the same thing together. In the 20th century, new opposite methods were tried, methods of letting go, of “hanging loose” and letting students study whatever they wanted to when they wanted to. As a result, we discovered that some students work better when allowed more freedom and some work better with more organized classroom activities. Then we took this new discovery and tried to let some people follow classroom activity and others work on their own as individuals. But teachers did not have time for both, so a new experiment was underway: small-group education, in which students break into small groups and study with each other, getting some guidance from the teachers and some from the teacher. This educational teaching method is still popular.

This is what humanity and the humanities disciplines are all about–a sometimes confusing but often fascinating mixture of recipes with all kinds of cooks trying out all kinds of new dishes. Some of these new dishes will be successful, some not, but most of them good or bad will lead to trying even newer recipes for how we should be human and think and feel.

How do we think of the humanities? Hopefully, this course has given you the feeling that the humanities are worth exploring. By exploring them, we are no longer like the four blind men in the parable at the beginning of the history chapter, unable to see the elephant for the wall, the rope, the snake, and the tree. We see the whole elephant; we look for all the parts.

African Elephant Amboseli Kenya

By exploring the humanities, we prepare ourselves outwardly for understanding the deeper yearnings and meanings of humankind. We prepare ourselves inwardly for facing those yearnings and meanings within ourselves, helping them to make sense in our own lives.


Directions: Follow the directions in each exercise below. Use complete sentences and correct writing rules in your responses.

Exercise 1

Make a list of the main humanities disciplines (the arts, philosophy, etc.) covered in these lessons. After each discipline, write the most important thing you liked or learned about this discipline. After each discipline, write a sentence or two about how knowing about the discipline might help you in future situations.

Exercise 2

Write five questions that are important questions about the humanities. Then discuss your ideas about each of your questions in one short essay. A short essay should contain a minimum of three paragraphs, with each paragraph containing a minimum of 7 sentences.

Exercise 3

In outline form, summarize some of the most important labels, parts, issues, or elements of each of the humanities disciplines as discussed in these lessons.

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