This morning, a friend on Facebook used wordle.com to create a tag cloud for the online program book of the upcoming annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR)–the largest professional association for scholars of religion. Another version is posted here.
It’s hardly a scientific or systematic representation of what scholars of religion work on, and I’d hate to draw too many conclusions about the field simply from the frequency of certain words’ appearances in panel titles, paper titles, and abstracts for papers. (E.g., “University” is so large surely because it appears in almost every presenter’s institutional affiliation, which appears with every paper in the program book.) However, noticing how tiny the word “theory” is (I leave it to you to find that particular Waldo), it prompted me to wonder what a tag cloud for a truly social scientific conference on religion might look like–one that studied people rather than the claims they make. That is, would we find “experience,” “theology,” “Christian,” and “God” so prominent, and “history,” “human,” “people,” “culture,” and “order” so small…?
Search the online program book for yourself–type in some interesting key words and see what you come up with.
So, just what are “the Humanities”? We know that, at the University of Alabama, the 23 or so Departments that comprise the College of Arts & Sciences are divided among three divisions: The Humanities and Fine Arts; the Social Sciences, and the Natural Sciences and Mathematics. The Department of Religious Studies, like the Departments of English, Theatre and Dance (the British spelling is not a typo), and the School of Music, are grouped together in the Humanities, to name just a few of the others. The Department History, which, throughout the history of the European university was commonly placed within the Humanities–such as in the Alabama Humanities Foundation‘s description (below)–is, however, classed on our campus within the Social Sciences, along with such Departments as Psychology, Anthropology, Criminal Justice, and New College, to name but a few Social Science units–though, come to think of it, New College describes itself as an “interdisciplinary liberal arts program,” which complicates things further, for we now need to inquire into the relationship between the liberal arts (sometimes known as the liberalizing arts) and the Humanities. More on that below. Continue reading “Just What Are “The Humanities”?”