Anyone who knows me knows how defensive I am when i answer what is the importance of humanities in our lives.
I’ve been a consistent academic performer all my life, bagging decent, even impressive scores in subjects I know I have absolutely no aptitude for (which just goes to show that much of our education is simply rote learning, but that’s a story for another day).
But going by these scores, a number of people found it absurd, even illogical, that I chose to pursue the humanities after school, they ask, “what is the importance of humanaties in our lives?”
I’d made up my mind about this when I was about eight years old, so there was really nothing anyone could say that would make me change my mind.
But boy, did they try.
Not my parents, though, they’ve been incredibly supportive throughout. Except my mother will sometimes joke about how well my ‘intelligence’ would have served me had I pursued the sciences. (At least, I hope she’s joking.)
But I still did get a lot of “You did so well in your exams! Why do you want to study the humanities? Why not take up science?” and several other similarly phrased, patronizing questions from people who barely even knew me.
My response to these questions has been simple; often curt. “Because I like it.”
What is the Importance of Humanities In Our Lives? I Seached for a Depeer Answer
It’s been about five years since then, and recently, I’ve been looking for a deeper reason behind my love for this field. I always told people I liked it, but I never told them why.
I’m going to try and do that now.
If you look up the word ‘humanities’ in the dictionary, it is defined as the subjects of study that deal with the way human beings think and behave.
Although this is an oversimplified definition, it does capture what lies at the core of the humanities — the human.
The humanities help make sense of the world around us in a way that no other field of study can. That’s why it has its own unique value, which I’m hoping to illustrate through this article.
Before I proceed, let me assure you — I’m not writing this in order to glorify the humanities while simultaneously bringing down other fields of study.
This is simply my response to the numerous misinformed, inaccurate claims that people make about the field because they don’t seem to get the importance of the humanities.
My aim is to put forth some arguments as to why these attitudes must change.
Deep Misunderstanding of Humanities
“Really? Arts? Why?”
“You’re not going to get a good job.”
“If you don’t study well enough, you’ll end up having to take up arts.”
If you’re from the average Indian household, you’re probably well-acquainted with these quotes.
And if you’re a humanities student, or hope to be one someday, these words make your blood boil.
People in our country seem to have a very distorted view of the humanities. Their obsession with the sciences seems to be so overpowering that any other field of study, no matter how relevant to today’s world, simply pales in comparison.
That age-old dream of making one’s child a doctor or an engineer has still not faded. That determination is so strong that even kids who show the slightest interest in the humanities are quickly and skillfully steered away from it.
I understand that in some situations, there is reason and logic behind this obsession. These are some of the highest paid, most respectable jobs in the world.
Jobs in the social sciences, unfortunately, do not pay as much.
The Cost We Pay As We Pursue Our Dreams
Studying to be in the medical, the engineering or the finance sector is the low income group’s ticket to the middle class, urban lifestyle.
Sometimes, one’s desire to survive overtakes one’s desire to follow his/her passion.
And that’s completely okay.
But what about those who are genuinely passionate about the field? Why are they discouraged from pursuing these subjects, and forced to do something they don’t really want to?
India’s constant preoccupation with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) has resulted in increased research funding towards this area, at the cost of the arts, social sciences and the humanities.
Less than 12% of the UGC’s research funding was allocated to the social sciences in 2009–10. The total grant to the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR) was only 2.3% of the amount provided to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and approximately 11% of the total grant to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)¹!
Expenditure incurred towards natural science was 81.85% in 2012–13, whereas the share going to the social sciences and humanities was 13.44%in 2012–13². (This is the most recent data I was able to find.) This clearly highlights the country’s lack of seriousness towards these subjects.
But let us move away from the academic and career aspect for a moment. Forget the lack of funding, well-paying job prospects etc.
What value do the humanities hold?
- How do they contribute to the society in the way other fields of study so evidently do?
- Why must we appreciate, celebrate and protect this field?
- And, most importantly, why must every single individual be familiar with its subject matter?
Because it’s the only way to protect our humanity. Without Sociology, Psychology, History, Literature, Philosophy, the Performing Arts (and the list goes on), how would we even begin to demystify the human experience?
How would we understand and be kind to each other?
- We live in a world teeming with such diversity and complexity that we need a systematic body of knowledge and research to break down and comprehend these experiences. To be sensitive to them, even if we have never experienced something moderately close. To empathize, connect, and to be part of the collective human consciousness.
- Without the humanities, we could never understand a culture different from ours. We could never accept a human being who wasn’t like us. We would continually be at war with each other.
- We would ostracize, discriminate and disregard human experiences we didn’t understand. Does all this sound familiar? That’s because social issues have been around since the beginning of time.
- These are things we’ve actually done to fellow human beings. We’ve discriminated (and continue to discriminate) on the basis of innumerable criteria — caste, class, race, culture, religion, creed, gender identity, sexuality, nationality, disability, mental illness, age… the list, unfortunately, goes on.
Any deviation from the ‘norm’ is put down simply because it is not understood. The humanities not only help you understand but also empathize.
No two human experiences are exactly alike. But that does not mean that both those experiences don’t hold equal value. Struggles of the oppressed — lower castes, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and other minorities are voices crying for help, begging to be heard and understood.
A human being well versed in the subject matter of humanities, can and will do the humane thing and respond.
- The humanities tell us stories in which human beings have committed grave mistakes in the past, but have also had the strength and courage to admit to them, and rectify them. No individual familiar with these stories would ever turn a blind eye toward a fellow human being pleading to be understood.
- The humanities teach us to never look down on someone unless we’re helping them up. And that is simply why the study of the humanities must be encouraged at all costs, and not just academically. Even those academically disinclined towards this field must be aware of its subject matter. In a world riddled with social and political unrest, the much sought-after resolution lies within the social sciences, within the humanities.
- Just for a moment, imagine a world without those who pursue this field. To be more precise, imagine a world without social workers, educators, mental health professionals, journalists, writers, artists. A world without these people would be unrecognizable. Empty in a soulless kind of way. These people sustain our world, our civilization, to a very large extent. It’s about time we appreciated them for it.
Therefore, I urge you to look at the humanities for what they really are — the study of our social existence. When people change their opinion of this field, they’ll see that the world can be a better place not just for them, but for everyone who’s been praying for it to be.
- Financial Express: ‘Inadequate funds impede social science R&D’. https://www.financialexpress.com/archive/inadequate-funds-impede-social-science-rd/818958/
- Gayatri, K. & Bairagya, I. (2018). Sources of Funding for Social Science Research Funding in India: Flows, Adequacy and Priorities. Institute for Social and Economic Change. http://www.isec.ac.in/PB%2018%20-%20Social%20Science%20Research%20Funding_Final%20Draft.pdf