The Legacy of the Humanities

Dr. Jonathan Chua
Dean, School of Humanities

The humanities are an expression of a people’s view of itself and of the world. They are also a record of what it values and aspires for—a remembering and an imagining.

At the School of Humanities, Ateneo de Manila University, these twin acts of remembering and envisioning are embedded in the degree and minor programs that it offers, the classes in the Ateneo core curriculum that the university has entrusted it to manage, and the various co-curricular activities that it organizes or supports.

The best specimens of the fine arts (literature, theater, the visual arts, and music) point to the heights that the human imagination can reach, from which vantage point it can offer new perspectives on things. The study of the arts and letters illuminates both the human experience which art eternalizes and the bigger world from which it emerged and with which it engages:

·        Expertise in language is necessary for effective interpersonal communication and creative self-expression, but it also affords an insight into the ways in which  language conditions our understanding of the world. Language “speaks” us as much as we speak a language.

·        Philosophy reviews, critiques, and supplements the responses that thinkers from the past have given to basic questions that have haunted the human mind: Who am I? What must I do? What can I hope for?

·        Theology is a critical reflection on religious experience. At the School of Humanities, the Catholic social vision informs the study and practice of theology; the goal is a “faith that does justice.”

·        An interdisciplinary approach is employed in many of the courses, in which students are made more sensitive to interconnectedness of things and more critical of the way knowledge is “discovered” or deployed.

What the School of Humanities offers, in fine, is a deeper understanding and appreciation of the human condition—a critical examination of the best that has been thought and said about it and spaces to imagine what yet may be done.

An exposure to all the above is meant to help students cultivate that which is unique—or so it is believed—to them as humans (the capacity for critical thinking, self-examination, moral judgment, unique expression, integration, etc.). The cultivation of these attributes is valuable in life outside academe, whether that be politics, social service, law, or commerce.

In an increasingly hostile world, an education in the humanities is perhaps even more needed. It is, after all, an education in good citizenship, on which, to use a much abused term, “civilization”—understood as a state of order where human and, by extension, society’s flourishing can occur—depends.