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May 27, 2012 / Man in the Mirror

Dawn.com: Humanities: Tapping into consciousness

By Pervez Mohsin |  | 23 hours ago

A consciously well-developed society may not want to mass produce only semi-efficient ‘workers’ who could either become part of an assembly line or are part of a series of steps to attain a technical goal, who, if required, could also be replaced by more efficient robots.

The intention should be to produce a more progressive and proficient member of a human society. Essential aspects of human life also exist beyond computers. Good social people with leadership skills are among the essentials of being humane. And for this to be achieved one needs courses in Humanities and Social Sciences.

A university or an institution of higher learning may impart the best possible knowledge to any given professional but this key step is often missing from the curricula. The goal should be not only to train an engineer or a medical doctor or a business person, but to get a wholesome human being who is not only one of the best in his or her professional field but is also able to see the ‘big picture’ in all circumstances; that is, one who is not confined to one piece of a specialised puzzle only, and unable to see the larger picture.

The decision making abilities of such a person, who has only been trained in a profession, would be limited to the short-term profit of a company or an organisation, something which could be damaging to either one’s society or a nation, country or even humanity at large. Thus, one should not only be technically sound in order to earn a respectful living, but also be socially and culturally sound as a respectful human being. Therefore, a true university cannot focus on monetary profit or loss exclusively; the vision and scope of a university must go beyond this confined thought process.

Some people may argue that it is not the responsibility of an educational institution to worry about this aspect of human or social life. However, a university bears one of the most important responsibilities in shaping the future of any society, nation or a county. It is the educational environment that universities provide, and the training which they impart that plays a vital role in shaping the future of the student and his or her environment.

Broadly speaking, humanities subjects apply analytical or critical approaches in contrast with the empirical approach of natural or physical science to cultivate and refine the human and cultural aspects of students. The subjects include, but are not limited to Languages, Literature, History, Philosophy, Comparative Religions and various art forms. Social sciences, on the other hand, focus on human and social behaviour through multiple courses such as, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Political Science, International Relations, Law, Media Studies and Geography. Boundaries of Humanities and social sciences sometimes overlap. Approaches in Social Sciences are quite often empirical, also. Under the broad umbrella of Humanities and Social Sciences, courses are outlined to ‘tap consciousness’.

It is part and parcel of the responsibilities of any educational institution to first understand the origins, reasons and key concepts of Humanities and Social Sciences; design a model and determine goals of a given curricula and the outline of the courses that would be included in the curriculum; discuss the outline with a highly capable teaching faculty about the goals and importance of teaching such courses and follow the outcome of the course to gradually upgrade the periphery without compromising the principles.

Matthew Arnold would describe Humanities as “the best that has been said, thought, written, and otherwise expressed about human experience. Humanities tell us how men and women of our as well as other civilisations have grappled with life’s enduring, fundamental questions: What is justice? What should be loved? What deserves to be defended? What is courage? What is noble? What is base? Why do civilisations flourish? Why do they decline?”

The teaching of Humanities and Social Sciences is very important, but it should be done in accordance with the socio-cultural sensitivities of a given society so as not to impose contradictory social values and materialistic theories on a given culture, but to create a positive sense of awareness among the learning generation and to equip them with the tools of positive interactions within their own societies as well as internationally. Departments who offer courses in Humanities and Social Sciences don’t perceive the actual realities and sensitivities and invite reactions from either the students or their elders. Rather than mold students in one culture from the values of another, they should try to build positive and constructive diversity. The idea is to build a model of peaceful human interaction based on constructive and complimentary diversity.

The writer is a faculty member at FAST National University

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