How to make humanities great again
In the QS World University Rankings 2023 by subject, universities in Bangladesh have not achieved a high position in the arts and humanities categories. This clearly shows our recurring failure in cultivating the importance of studying foundational subjects within our education system—a cause for concern indeed.
But through the multidisciplinary approach of humanities in Bangladesh, this branch of subjects can significantly contribute to a flourishing education system. In order to achieve this, we can look back to the golden era of humanities in 1971 in the Indian subcontinent. To receive a high ranking, students should blend the fundamental humanities courses—such as history, philosophy, religion, linguistics, literature, etc—with the Bangladeshi setting.
What factors contribute to the greater popularity and success of humanities subjects in affluent countries compared to resource-poor ones? Renowned universities in the United States have consistently achieved high rankings due to a confluence of factors, including their esteemed reputation and prominence, distinguished professors and abundant resources, interdisciplinary approach, and extensive international influence. To provide more clarification, these universities have demonstrated notable proficiency in attaining the measures pertaining to humanities, including academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, citations per article, and h-index.
An overarching question is, given our low resource environments, how can Bangladeshi institutions meet the requirements to be included in such humanities rankings? It might be detrimental to believe that Bangladeshi universities and Western universities would benefit from the same stimulators. That is, in order to benefit from the humanities in our situation, we need to take a moment to consider our constraints.
We must reflect on our golden age of this field, which was around the time Bangladesh was founded. Humanities was not only an academic pursuit but also something that appealed to the understanding of the nature of a good life. Studying humanities, if we look back to the history of our country, we notice that the branch of subjects in the 1970s was the most popular in just-born Bangladesh.
At that time, studying humanities was closely connected to regaining a strong sense of nationalistic pride and a craving to shape a unique deshi identity by promoting the essence of Bangladesh's culture, heritage, history, language, literature, and so forth. Moreover, there was presumed tension in our political climate—which often circulated around topics such as social justice, human rights, and equality. Social movements and student activism prioritised solving these issues to promote progressive ideas. That is, there was an applied necessity or aspect of studying humanities.
Nevertheless, in the era of technological revolution, we possess an erroneous sense that humanities is disconnected with life and technological advancements. This also indicates that, given the fragilities in our educational system, a multidisciplinary approach is desperately needed. In the humanities, such an approach combines ideas and techniques from many fields to provide a more thorough grasp of complicated problems. Through the integration of diverse disciplinary viewpoints, scholars can cultivate a more comprehensive understanding of a topic. Collaborating across disciplines promotes the sharing of concepts and approaches by taking Bangladeshi context-specific requirements into account.
Moreover, diverse academic disciplines provide distinct viewpoints and resources to the table, which stimulates creative problem-solving and thinking. The creation of new theories or frameworks might result from this cross-pollination, which can stimulate creativity. Organisations and funding agencies are coming to understand the importance of transdisciplinary research. Research efforts that are thorough and creative are likely to receive higher support when they are collaborative and incorporate numerous disciplines, since they may attract more funding.
Understanding culture is frequently essential in the humanities. With multidisciplinary methodologies, academics may investigate cultural phenomena from several perspectives, leading to a more sensitive and nuanced knowledge of various cultures and communities. Approaching multidisciplinary aspects in humanities is an untouched area that we should explore more seriously.
Asmat Islam is lecturer at Jagannath University and visiting assistant professor of ethics at North South University (NSU).
Views expressed in the article are the author's own.
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