Humanities Moments

Humanities Moments

We’ve all had “humanities moments” — when our lives were made richer, more poignant, and meaningful because of the insights the humanities provide.

Browse Items (8 total)

by Hollis Robbins, Johns Hopkins University
In 1979, at age 16, Hollis Robbins found herself enrolled at John Hopkins University. Though she was there as part of a program for girls who excelled in math, she signed up for a humanities lecture class. In that day’s class, drawing upon the epic of Gilgamesh, a guest lecturer expounded on the theory of “mimetic desire,” or the idea that we borrow our desires from other people. Unbeknownst to her, the speaker was none other than famed anthropological philosopher René Girard. Yet, Hollis disagreed. In her opinion, culled from reading…

by Nancy J. Hirschmann, University of Pennsylvania
G.W.F. Hegel
As a 21-year-old senior in college, Nancy Hirschmann encountered—and was forever changed by—German philosopher Hegel’s notoriously difficult passages in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Suddenly, she “broke through the wall” of the concept of the “master-slave dialectic” and its notion of consciousness and recognition. The act of reading a text, deciphering it, and understanding how it translates into a significant meaning kindled Hirschmann’s engagement with political theory. For Hirschmann, grappling with Hegel’s work…

by Peter A. Benoliel
Virginia Woolf
Some years ago, I was asked to give a lecture to students enrolled in a small university’s humanities program describing the personal epiphany I experienced which led to my passion for the humanities. Try as I might, I could not think of an isolated, single experience but rather a series of moments that stretch back to my childhood and have “stuck to my ribs” over a lifetime. A very early memory: perhaps at the age of six or seven, I became mesmerized by Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and repeatedly played it on the phonograph…

by Stephen Miller, 48, Philosophy Teacher
Choosing a Humanities Moment was initially a challenging task. Over the last few years working with the organization PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the humanities, liberal arts and a philosophical education. In particular, the so-called crisis of the Humanities, the popularity of STEM fields and the blossoming of a national testing regime prompted me to think a lot about what a good education should entail. In thinking back to my own education, my Humanities Moment both shows the…

Star Trek: The Next Generation
One of my humanities moments happened while I was watching old reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is a character in that show named Data, an android who is constantly seeking his own humanity. At one point the crew of the Enterprise finds the sister of a fellow crew member who had previously died in the line of duty. Many of the characters in the show describe how the sister reminded them of their lost friend, but Data puts it the best. He supposedly doesn’t experience emotions, but his description of his own…

by William “Bro” Adams, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
Glenn Gray, "The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle"
NEH Chairman William “Bro” Adams shares how philosophy professor and World War II veteran Glenn Gray and his book The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle helped him come to terms with his own experiences in Vietnam. For centuries philosophers like Gray have sought ways to make sense of the world and better understand our place in it—from the order of the cosmos to the nature of beauty to the chaos and brutality of war. And, for just as many centuries they have inspired, intrigued, and challenged us to consider new ideas, and…

by Robert D. Newman, President and Director, National Humanities Center
from "The New York Times Magazine," June 25, 2013
In this video clip, Robert D. Newman shares how his friend Brooke Hopkins found meaning for his life after a tragic accident through his love of literature and teaching. This moving account speaks to how literature and the humanities classroom provide tools for coping with the most pressing of human questions — life and death — and allow us to find meaning and purpose when so many of life's pleasures have been stripped away.

by David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
David Denby, author, journalist, film critic
Have we lost the metaphysical? And how do we regain it?
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