The Science of Humanity

“Wow, Literary theory, really… You know you’ve got the brains to study mathematics or engineering, right?” says an uncle of mine who shall remain nameless, and wrinkles his nose. I look down at my hands. Maybe he’s right. There’s no point in scrutinizing writings and speculating about earlier societies. There’s no point in asking why humans are here on earth and what their purpose is.

Or what?

“Literature reflects the society of the time it is written in, and allows the reader to walk in someone else’s footsteps and get to know people he otherwise would never meet. Literature informs and enlightens,” I answer. My uncle looks at me, stunned. I look up and challenge him with my stare. In a society where the importance of technology and technological studies is ever increasing and awareness concerning social issues is rising, the importance of the liberal arts is continually questioned.

My uncle is an intelligent man and people who study humanities are used to dealing with reactions like his when asked about their field of study. The increasing importance of other fields in our ever-changing society does not detract from the importance of the humanities. It is safe to assume that each and every discipline has a common goal: to gain a better understanding of the world and/or change the world for the better. Through the mediums of language, literature, film, art, symbolism and religion, the human race communicates their emotions, social conditions and much more. Any form of art is a way to perceive the world, history is one way to describe how the human kind came to be the way it is today and philosophy is a channel to an in-depth understanding of the complicated subject that is called earth.

Now, I study only in one of the many branches of the humanities and therefore I can only speak from my own perspective as a student of literary theory. Books have opened new dimensions to me. They have revealed to me an endless number of issues, issues that I wasn’t even aware that I didn’t fully recognise. They have encouraged me to criticise the community I live in and helped me to develop the voices of countless different persons that I would have never gotten acquainted with without them. Literary theory gives its students a chance to go deeper. It provides an opportunity not only to criticise the society, but also to improve it. Literary theory has already given me the tools to communicate opinions and critique, through story, text or direct discourse, the tools needed to communicate the importance of justice. To underline the importance of a better society for everyone. Each and every person is important, and like Francis Bacon said, knowledge is power – all knowledge.

Journalist: Ragnhildur Þrastardóttir
Translation: Þorgerður Anna Gunnarsdóttir

Article first published in the 4th issue, vol 92. of Stúdentablaðið.