Ewha Voice met with a few professors to ask for their opinions about the humanities and the so-called “humanities revival movement” that has recently begun to take root on campuses. Professor Baik So-young (Christian Studies), HK (Humanities Korea) research professor at the EIH; professor Jang Mi-young (German), the director of EIH, and professor Jin Eun-young (Philosophy), an award winning poet and HK research professor at EIH participated in our interviews.
Ewha Voice (EV): Professor, as a scholar, how would you view the recent phenomenon of the “humanities boom”?
Baik So-young (Baik): I think it is a little bit of an early stage to call it a “boom” yet but near the “warming-up” stage where many people start to realize the need and share their difficulties. In the industrial capital society we live in now, people are more likely to be judged by their capacities over their personalities. As the society puts value on what we are capable of, rather than looking into each individual that has a story, people naturally started to prefer medical sciences, law, and such pragmatic studies where they can prove themselves as “capable,” which led to the downfall, and now rise, of humanities.
Jang Mi-young (Jang): As Baik said, it is natural for people to shift personal preferences on to what the society wants over their own desires. As even humans ourselves are being judged based on ability or function, people obviously have started to stop and think about “what makes us different from machines.” That’s when the humanities stepped in. Yet students still hesitate to pick humanities as their major which pretty much shows that it is too early to call it a “boom.” Although it is good news that people are gradually getting interested, we need to improve the qualities of the overall humanities events; not to make them feel it as a formal event nor because of the showings.
Jin Eun-young (Jin): I definitely think it is a good sign. Although I agree that it might end up like an event held due to formal matters I believe it could also become someone’s small motivation to get interested with humanities. A person might hear somebody mention an impressive quote during a seminar, go home and look up who said it, and find and read the author’s books.
EV: But as a majority of the books or lectures on humanities are based on Western values, wouldn’t there be a possibility of the boom, or humanities itself, being too Westernized instead of Korean-oriented?
Baik: I have to agree. Inevitably, a number of people are studying abroad, and more will in the future and it is one of the reasons why it is likely for us to focus on to Western culture and works. Recently, though, we have become to acknowledge the need to study Korean classics and discover the value of it.
Jang: Having more and more students jumping into the competition in entering the English Language and Literature department, it does seem so but there are actually more investments and research undergoing on Korean Studies in terms of the number of scholars or studies conducted or the quantity and qualities of results. Personally, I think the problem is that the boundary of traditional Korean and Western humanities is somewhat too clear. We need to be able to connect and share both studies and traditions.
Jin: This is a part where the readers should be more active. People need to consciously take interest in East Asian philosophies as much as we are ardent in Western philosophies. I don’t believe this is because they are beleaguered with Eurocentrism, but because they are simply less familiar with East Asian philosophies.