By Emily Chau
It’s funny. I distinctly remember watching the Tony Award-winning musical “Avenue Q” and hearing the main character Princeton sing, “What do you do with a B.A. in English?” I was attending a liberal arts college—majoring in English, of course—and bent on pursuing a career in journalism. Fast forward a few years, I was asking that exact same question: What do you do with a B.A. in English???
After moving to New York and working in magazines, I became disillusioned with the industry and what seemed to be a dead-end career. Just as the Israelites grumbled in the desert, I complained about the seeming lack of progress in my career trajectory and how my friends were making so much more than me. I tried to make a career switch. But interview after interview, I was met with the same verdict: you just don’t have the quantitative skills that we’re looking for. It was a fair enough assessment, but what I heard was: the way to happiness is through math, science, and business. It was basically in pursing the polar opposite of my roots. It was time to ditch editing for Excel sheets, trade in puns for pivot tables.
Nationwide, we see the humanities falling out of favor for the more practical and quantifiable STEM majors. A 2013 Wall Street Journal article proclaimed, “Humanities Fall From Favor: Far Fewer Harvard Students Express Interest in Field With Weak Job Prospects”. The statistics speak for themselves. In 1966, 14% of college graduates majored in the humanities across the nation; in 2010, this number dropped to 7%. At Harvard, students majoring in the humanities fell from 36% to 20% between 1954 and 2012.
But the humanities deserve our attention and support as both an educational and vocational priority. After all, the Bible never said, In the beginning was Big Data… No! Rather, studying words, and particularly the Word are critical to our lives. As Jesus says, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
Throughout the Bible, we see the importance of the softer sciences. The way to wisdom and righteousness is found in reading, studying, and meditating the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We’re called to praise God through song and dance (Psalm 149:3). The most powerful argument in support of why Christians should care about the humanities is to look to Jesus himself. He did not just study the human experience, he fully experienced it.
We do humanities a disservice by pitting it against the hard sciences. Neither is better or worse than the other. Instead of an either-or approach, Christians need to embrace the both-and. We need to continue to invest in creating and studying the arts and the sciences, the overtly practical and seemingly impractical.
Right now, I’m wrapping up my second year in business school. The most surprising realization that I’ve learned? The more that I focus on honing my quantitative skills and buy into the value of data, the more that I need to express my creative side, be it through storytelling, cooking, or reading. By giving the humanities equal weight as the hard sciences, I think that we will also untangle some of the myths of progress. Math and science can help us discover and explain more about the world around us. But the path forward can also be found in staying still, by living and dwelling in the Word.