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What Is Humanistic Studies?

Students at MICA possess wide-ranging interests in subjects beyond studio art, especially in academic subjects such as literature, history, philosophy, and writing. As a result, the College is offering this unique integrated undergraduate degree; in effect, students in this program get a liberal arts degree as well as a studio arts degree combined in one program of study.

The academic side of the new integrated major is called humanistic studies. We choose to call it humanistic studies rather than humanities in order to emphasize a difference in intellectual commitment. The term 'humanities' suggest subjects to be studied and tend to look backwards and to train academics who study the past in an academic sort of way. In contrast, humanistic studies suggests a practice of life. Our goal is to train students to be practicing artists, intellectuals, and citizens involved with the cultural life of the communities where they live. Humanistic studies embodies a forward-looking and ethical orientation. Its concern is to help students discover that the quality of life of their community is in their hands as makers and thinkers. Humanistic studies provides a broad liberal arts education while developing the analytical, critical, and contextual thinking skills that are vital for the creation, expression, and transmission of ideas.

The theoretical principle underlying humanistic studies is that "humanness" is not a biologically given state; it is rather created in culture. Much of what humans know and hence what drives their practice are historical and cultural constructs. Being human is an ever-evolving and changing knowledge state. Like all such constructs, it needs to be created and, once created, constantly refined and articulated. Some parts of it need to be refuted and abandoned. All of it needs to be disseminated, transmitted, and taught. All cultures include groups of people whose central role is to maintain or enhance the human status of the people. These are artists, philosophers, historians, poets, intellectuals--in short, those who take the human being as their subject of study and creation. They create, they write, and they manage the social institutions that present human achievements to the whole community.

We are right now at a very unique and crucial moment in human history. Most of the 20th century was about the deconstruction of the idea of "man" developed in so-called Renaissance Humanism. The futurist Ray Kurzweil framed our mission for us perfectly in 1999:

Before the next century [the 21st] is over, human beings will no longer be the most intelligent or capable type of entity on the planet. Actually, let me take that back. The truth about the last statement depends on how we define human . . . The primary political and philosophical issue of the next century will be the definition of who we are" (The Age of Spiritual Machines)

The heart of our new  major is that we want to train students to be the creators of the nature and the conditions of the human being in the coming century.