College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Like other American Christian universities, Charleston Southern extends a tradition that is more than 1000 years old. In the United States, it counts as one among a group of broadly evangelical schools that have been in existence for more than a hundred years. Christian higher education is genuinely different from education at secular schools, and I’m confident that academic work of the kind that CSU exacts from students counts for a lifetime. It has for me.
Why attend a Christian university? Why study the humanities or social sciences?
Is Christian higher education really different from education at a state university?
It is, and the thoughts below might help you understand why.
The Bible tells a story whose influence tends outward, away from the centrality of Israel to the wider world. We all participate in it. Scholars call such a story a Grand Narrative. As participants in this narrative, subdued by the influence of Christ, we are led out of ourselves, out of and away from the concerns, anxieties, and distractions that diminish the powers of the soul.
The influence of Christian higher education is like that of the Bible. It is an education of the soul, enlarging emotional, volitional, imaginative, and intellectual horizons. The goal is fulfillment in the image of God. For example, in Babylonian exile, Hebrews in the time of Daniel learned the language, literature, and science of their captors. In the confines of exile, away from home and familiar landscapes, they were led out of themselves. In captivity, their horizons expanded. This should come as no surprise since their captivity was directed by God, the maker of their story. By contrast, nothing in The Book of Daniel suggests that the Babylonians learned Hebrew. God’s way was to lead his people towards otherness, towards people whose beliefs, behavior, and society were completely different from their own. The Babylonians remained just themselves, falsely superior, stubbornly indifferent to the people they had brought to live among them, except to use them.
In the humanities and social sciences, we teach students to entertain others’ points of view without necessarily buying into them. We teach them what an older generation of intellectuals called disinterestedness and what the biblical writers called impartiality. It is a moral strength that insists on finding the truth, however complicated, and whether or not it advances one’s interests. This effort exercises the entire person and supersedes education for a single career. (No undergraduate major is a lock on one, anyway.) In my view, career education is the byproduct of a genuinely higher education whose challenges lead students, as we would be led ourselves, to encounter life’s challenges with more skill, more wisdom, and more Christ-like humanity than we otherwise might.
The point is to free our students by enabling them to be accountable, capable human souls who can take risks intelligently, who can love well, and who can reason with confidence, whatever the context.
These are intangible things, of course, but no less valuable for that. Still, if you question the financial value of education in the liberal arts generally, there is surprising news. The stereotype of the English major who flips burgers is a popular joke. It is also misleading. In early 2014, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released a study of three million liberal arts majors. Called “How Liberal Arts and Sciences Majors Fare in Employment,” it included recent graduates and retirees, and persons in every stage in between. Its size is impossible to dismiss. The results give a convincing picture of job prospects immediately out of college and sweep away, like so much dust, all of the bad jokes. Students in the liberal arts began their working lives with salaries below that of students in pre-professional majors but (surprisingly!) slightly higher than those in math and sciences. By middle age, their earnings surpassed that of pre-professional majors. There are other studies with encouraging real-life results. A more recent one, using data from the Department of Labor, demonstrates that skills learned in liberal arts majors, especially critical thinking, have a high correlation with high earnings. The Gallup organization has shown that liberal arts majors bring more initiative to their work, and gain more satisfaction from it, than do students with other majors (“Great Jobs Great Lives” and "The Case for Liberal Arts: Life Satisfaction"). Finally, yet another study argues that the best way to acquire such possibility-enhancing skills is at a small university like CSU (“Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” The New Republic, July 21, 2014).
An older generation called this liberal education, for good reason. I want to call it education in the human arts, the art of finding the truth and telling it, whatever the cost, of reasoning, discerning, imagining, and even of learning to love the right things in the right degree. This is what we set our minds to here in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and across CSU. We invite you to do the same--to enter into the great conversation that is higher education--and to grow with us.Dr. Keith Callis