The Value of the Humanities and Heterodoxy

Readers of the CLR Forum see every day how scholarship in the humanities and social sciences directly affects the laws and policies that govern our lives. That important perspective is not shared widely enough. On that score, two items of interest appeared last week.

First, TIME reported that “[m]ore than two dozen Japanese universities … will reduce or altogether eliminate their academic programs in the humanities and social sciences, following a dictum from Tokyo to focus on disciplines that ‘better meet society’s needs.'”

In tough times, policymakers tend to think of the academic disciplines outside the sciences as a luxury good, easily abandoned in favor of more practical pursuits. But, in fact, really good scholarship across the humanities and social sciences is necessary to help us try to figure out what kind of society we want to be, and what it will take for us to figure out how to work together to get there.

One reason for society’s lack of enthusiasm for the humanities and social sciences is that it tends to be politically monotonal. The best recent studies suggest that less than 5% of academics in these fields at research universities have right-of-center social and political views. Not surprisingly, this can lead to scholarship that downplays, misunderstands, or simply overlooks views widely held among the public and policymakers.

The Heterodox Academy, recently reported in The American Interest, looks like a very important effort to bring more balance into academic scholarship. A politically diverse group of scholars is setting out to bring a greater degree of viewpoint diversity to scholarship, especially in the social sciences. This effort should not only make scholarship more useful, but it will make it more intellectually invigorating, as well.

For what it’s worth, I have much more to say on these topics in a book coming out in just a few weeks called, Why We Need the Humanities.

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