The humanities are a fundamental and defining part of education. To study the humanities is to acquire or hone valuable skills in thinking, researching, and writing, as well as to probe the layers of human experience in its diverse forms.
Many of the world’s greatest problems—climate change, inequality, poverty, and conflict—involve questions of value and meaning that the humanities explore. What do we owe to future generations? Is there an obligation to remember the past and, if so, how? What is a fair way of distributing benefits and burdens? Literature, philosophy, classics, the arts, religious studies, and history are springboards for exploring answers to all of these issues.
Science and technology alone cannot tell us what is fair and just, what is beautiful, or what it means to be free. Nor can they answer the most profound questions that every human being faces: How am I to choose? What gives my life meaning? The humanities provide a foundation that graduates return to time and time again throughout their careers and lives. To miss out on humanities classes in college is to miss out on a fundamental and defining part of education.
With this in mind, Stanford has created the Humanities Core. The guiding philosophy behind the core is that all students should have some references and readings in common in a Foundations course. Through studying ancient civilizations, students will be introduced to basic beliefs and concepts that underpin a diverse range of cultures and remain central today.
Beyond this foundational course, the study of no single cultural tradition can be required of all students, but there are considerable advantages to studying a tradition critically as a coherent and loosely defined whole. Hence, the opportunity to dive deep into the regional Traditions track(s) of choice. Each of these traditions engages with many similar questions, and some include the same authors, but often come to different conclusions. Students can then learn more about the history and methods of specific disciplinary approaches by taking additional courses in the humanities.