Seminar Papers

Relevance of the Humanities: then and now of studentship and lectureship

A PAPER DELIVERED BY: DR. T.F JEMIRIYE of the Department of Religious Studies, University Of Ado-Ekiti, at the Workshop on Restoring Excellence in the Faculty of Arts June 1-4, 2005 at the Odua Lecture Theatre, University of Ado-Ekiti, Ado-Ekiti, EKITI STATE

I. Introduction

The importance and significance, hence relevance of a critical self-evaluation and appraisal as necessary weapons in fighting or re-charting the way forward within the present day global University system are mostly achievable when the searchlight is focused on the then history of the system as to compare with and improve on the present continually, to the mutual development of both students and lecturers, which are the core genre of any University system. It is from this context that the humble efforts of the Faculty of Arts, University of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria are therefore adjudged as highly commendable. This amounts to holding the bull by the horn, and coming at a time when the golden values, principles, candour of life and aesthetics are being lost to the estranged, finely polished modern enslavement of money-based economy, daily scientific terrorism and frightening technological but systematic cremation of life – all ending in more inhumanity of man to man. This is why this writer sees this workshop organised on “Restoring Excellence in the Faculty of Arts,” as most deserving, appropriate and worthy of praise at a time when the love of students to study in the Humanities compared to other Faculties like the Management Sciences, the Social Sciences, the Physical Sciences, Engineering, Medicine and of course, Education, that has just “captured” in Nigeria all other disciplines by her “teaching ethics imposition” on all lecturers, has dropped to and dwindled over the year to a near zero percent (%) and the commitment-dedication of the handlers of the once hallowed, sacred and “egg-head” rated profession of lectureship are now daily and commonly dragged in the mud of plagiarism, academic incompetence, sorting, sexual impropriety, money marauding and even many other social vices including cultism.

II. Humanities down the Memory Lane


The Humanities is an arm of the special institution called the University and it is the mother Faculty of all Faculties therein. University is the setting and system where the most advanced type of education is given. It is normally a community of lecturers – teachers/scholars and students/researchers. A major feature of the University is the research work carried out by members of the staff and postgraduate students1. Webster defines University as coming from the Latin root, universitat, universitats, which means totality, universe, entire, whole. It is

1. (a). A body of persons gathered at a particular place, for the disseminating and assimilating of knowledge in advanced fields of study;

(b) An institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorised to grant academic degrees;

(c) The physical plant of a University.

2. (a) Universe;

(b) A body of persons;

(c) The mass of the people. 2

Universities are autonomous with their own courts and senates, and have complete academic freedom. Universities receive financial aid direct from government, companies funding research and other bodies. Universities work through committees in its running and grants various degrees at first and postgraduate levels.

Faculty: The word “Faculty” is from the Latin facultat –facultats meaning “a branch of learning”. It is a branch of teaching or learning in an institution usually involving the interaction of several academic departments and providing education leading to a particular degree. In Medieval Universities, the Faculties usually recognised were Theology, Law, Medicine and Arts.3

A short developmental history of the Humanities is aptly put in The Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. thus:

The modern conception of the humanities has its origin in the classical Greek paideia, a course of general education dating from the sophists in the mid-5th century BC, which prepared young men for active citizenship in the polis, or city-state; and in Cicero’s humanitas (literally “human nature”), a program of training proper for orators, first set forth in De Oratore (Of the Orator) in 55 BC. In the early Middle Ages the Church Fathers, including St. Augustine, himself a rhetorician, adapted paideia and humanitas – or the bonae (“good”), or liberales (“liberal”), arts, as they were also called – to a program of basic Christian education; mathematics, linguistic and philological studies, and some history, philosophy, and science were included.

The word humanitas, although not the substance of its component disciplines, dropped out of common use in the later Middle Ages but underwent a flowering and a transformation in the Renaissance. The term studia humanitatis (“studies if humanity”) was used by 15th century Italian humanists to denote secular literary and scholarly activities (in grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, moral philosophy, and ancient Greek and Latin studies) that the humnaists thought to be essentially humane and classical studies rather than divine ones. In the 18th century Denis Diderot and the French Encyclopédistes censured studia humanitatis for what they claimed had by then become its dry, exclusive concentration on Latin and Greek texts and language. By the 19th century, when the purview of humanities expanded, the humanities had begun to take their identity not so much from their separation from the realm of the divine as from their exclusion of the materials and methods of the maturing physical sciences, which tented to examine the world and its phenomena objectively without reference to human meaning and purpose.

Contemporary conceptions of the humanities resemble earlier conceptions in that they propose a complete educational program based on the propagation of a self-sufficient system of human values. But they differ in that they also propose to distinguish the humanities from the social sciences as well as from the physical sciences, and in that they dispute among themselves as to whether an emphasis on the subject matter or on the methods of the humanities is most effectual is most effectual in accomplishing this distinction. In the late 19th century the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey called the humanities “the spiritual sciences” and “the human sciences”, and described them, simply, as those area of knowledge that lay outside of, and beyond, the subject matter of the physical sciences. On the other hand, Heinrich Rickert, a turn-of-the-century Neo-Kantian, argued that it is not subject matter , but method of investigation that best characterizes the humanities; Rickert contended that whereas the physical sciences aim to move from particular instances to general laws, the human sciences are “idiographic”- they are devoted to the unique value of the particular within its cultural and human contexts and do not seek general laws.

While the position of Encyclopaedia Britannica is very true, it also confirms the existence of the Humanities.

Humanities: “Humanities” as a term came very early in the evolution of the University system. Humanities is the branch of knowledge that concerns herself with human beings and their culture. Humanities uses analytical and critical methods of inquiry derived from an appreciation of human values and the unique ability of the human spirit to express itself4. The Humanities are distinguished from other educational disciplines in content and method. The distinction is sharp when compared with the Biological and Physical Sciences while it is somehow diffused with the Social Sciences.

The Humanities include the study of all Languages and Literatures, the Arts, History and Philosophy.5 It must be noted that Religion was the core of Humanities hence most of what is now called Humanities revolved around or had their roots in Religion. In olden days, Religion or Divinity had a whole faculty to herself. All studies were of Religion – thus History was of God-man; Arts, mostly in carving and expression of the life of man; Philosophy, on the basic questions surrounding man, God and existence. A Faculty of Theology/Divinity/Religion was not uncommon in the very early days of the University system.

III. Down the Memory Lane:

Education in general from pre-historic and ancient times can be thought of as the transmission of the values and of accumulated knowledge of a society. Education is designed to guide “children” in learning a culture, moulding their behaviour in the ways of “adulthood” and directing the children toward their eventual role in the society. This is true to the University level and for the Humanities.

The background of early Christian education from the beginnings to the 4th century that could be called the European Middle Ages, echoes the issues of Christian education and liberal education with the start of the grammar and rhetoric schools with their Greco-Roman, non-Christian culture. The efforts of Greek fathers including Christian Platonists, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Augustine, St. Basil, Roman theologian Tertullian and Emperor Constantine highlighted many different issues about Christian education, secular schools and catechetical schools. A famous one was the school at Alexandria in Egypt with its succession of outstanding heads like Clement and Origen, who developed curricula like Greek Science, Philosophy and Christian Studies. Moulded after the Alexandrine school was the school in Syria.6 The question on whether the schools are equivalent of the universities and their curriculum – Humanities is a subject of inference.

The 5th to the 8th century witnessed the use of many more schools within the educational system of the then world. The Barbarian invaders of the 5th century that subjugated the western empire threw away the educational system. Education in various forms survived to the 6th and 7th century in places like Ostrogothic Italy, (Milan, Ravenna), Africa, (Carthage) Gaul and Spain. It is worth noting that around this time, there were Bishops who organised some kind of boarding schools where aspiring clergymen lived in a community and participated in duties of a monastic character and learnt their clerical trade.7

The influence of monasticism affected the content of instruction and the method of prosecuting it. Children – (can it be called students?) were to be dutiful, as the Celtic and English monks Columban and Bede remarked:

“A child does not remain angry, he is not spiteful, does not contradict the professor, but receives with confidence what is taught him.” In the use of the adolescent destined for a religious profession, the monastic lawgiver was severe. The teacher must know and teach the doctrine, reprimand the undisciplined, and adapt his method to the different temperaments of the young monks. The education of young girls destined for monastic life was similar: the mistress of the novices recommended prayer, manual work and study.8

This can be called the spirit of education then for both the students and the lecturers. Between the 5th and 8th centuries, the principles of Education of the laity, later called “mirrors” were four moral virtues – prudence, courage, justice and temperance. This was education then.9

The 7th to the 15th century saw the channels of development in Renaissance education with the Muslim influence. The doctrines of Aristotle, which had been assiduously cultivated by the Muslims, were especially influential for their emphasis on the role of reason in human affairs and on the importance of the study of humankind in the present, as distinct from the earlier Christian preoccupation with the cultivation of faith as essential for the future life. Thus, Muslim learning helped to usher in the new phase in education known as humanism which first took definite form in the 12th century.10

The secular influence around the period cannot be glossed over. The word humanism comes from “studia humanitatis” meaning “studies of humanity”. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, there was a renewed interest in those studies that stressed the importance of man, his faculties, affairs, worldly aspirations, and well-being. The primacy of theology and other worldliness was over; the “reductio artium ad theologian (freely, reducing everything to theological argument) was rejected since it no longer expressed the reality of the new situation in Europe and Italy. This was because society had been profoundly transformed, commerce had expanded and life in the cities had evolved. Also, Economic and political power previously in the hands of the ecclesiastical hierarchy and the feudal lords was beginning to be taken over by the city bourgeois. Use of vernacular language was becoming widespread. The new society needed another kind of education and different educational structures. The bourgeois required new instruments with which to express themselves and they found the old medieval universities inadequate11. Thus the educational institutions of humanism had their origin in the schools set up in the free cities in the 13th and 14th centuries – schools designed to answer to the needs of the new urban population that was beginning to have greater economic importance in society. The pedagogical thought of the humanists therefore took the transformations of society into account and worked out new theories that often went back to the classical Greek and Latin traditions. It must be said however that the educational revolution did not completely abolish existing traditions, for example the humanist did not concern themselves with extending education to the masses but turned their attention to the sons of princes and rich bourgeois. The humanist reconstructed the past in order to better understand themselves and their own time. Talking of the humanistic tradition, in Italy there were the early influences, the emergence of the new gymnasium and the non-scholastic traditions. There were other humanistic traditions in Northern and Western Europe, the Dutch humanism, Juan Luisvives and the early English humanists.12

Humanism in the reformation and counter-reformation period brought a large transformation that coloured the 16th century. The religious reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwinggli kept the masses in mind while humanist like Erasmus aimed to educate a small minority. Overall, it could be said that the reformation and European influenced one another. The German, English, France and Calvinist Reformation along with the Roman Catholic counter-Reformation all brought the legacy of the Reformation in which school work had to be combined with learning a practical trade.13

The 17th and 18th centuries brought many social and historical settings. These included the new scientism and rationalism, the protestant demand for universal elementary education, the central European theories and practices of Education. The period also featured Ratke (1571 – 1635), Comenius (1592 – 1670), the French courtly theories and practices, female education (1687, Treatise on the education of Girls by Fancois de Salignac de la Mothe – Fenelan in which the importance of women is in improving the morals of society), Puritan reformers, Royalist education, the academies and others.14

The 18th century saw education during the enlightenment, with the background and influence of Pietism, naturalism and the influence of nationalism across Europe. Europeans offshoots in the New World included Spanish and Portuguese America, French Quebec and British America – New England.

Patterns of education in non-western or developing nations such as Japan, South Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries are noted, but the case in Africa will be mentioned briefly.

Africa: According to the Britannica, before the arrival of the European colonial powers, education in Africa was designed to prepare children for responsibility in the home, the village and the tribe. It provided religious and vocational education as well as full initiation into the society. Exceptions to this pattern were found only in areas where Islam had spread. It is noted that Islam reached Eastern Africa in the 9th and 10th centuries and western Africa in the 11th. It thus introduced Arabic script and Qur’anic schools which placed young Africans in contact with Arab civilisation and only boys selected as potential leaders attended higher educational institutions in the Arab world. Western style schooling was introduced in most of Africa after the establishment of the European colonial powers. As African nations gained independence in the middle of the twentieth century they kept the existing school systems of their former colonial status.

During the colonial period, educational influences came from outside to Africa – first the Portuguese (from the 15th century), and then French, Dutch, English and German (from the 15th to the 19th centuries). The partition of Africa by the colonial powers in the 19th and 20th centuries led first to the establishment of mission schools and then to the establishment of “lay” or “public” or official schools, depending on the political doctrines, institutions and status of the mother country. But, whatever the system, the fundamental purpose of colonial instruction was the training of indigenous subaltern cadres – clerks, interpreters, teachers, nurses, medical assistants, workers and so forth – all indispensable to colonial administration, businesses and other undertakings. Though inspired by the system in the mother country, no colonial system was equivalent to its prototype. The intention was not to “educate” the subject peoples but to extend the language and policies of the coloniser15. Both the mission and the political administrations – the colonisers – wished to model the African man in accordance with their own needs and objectives. This has been fast flash down the memory lane of education in the centuries. Many principles are embedded in the developmental report above. Some are now going to be highlighted.

IV. Studentship down the Lane – Then and Now

There was the ancient time, the then, when students follow the teachers, lived with them, travelled and toured the known centres of knowledge – world – in order to assimilate lifestyle. The willingness and urge to learn was the driving zeal. Time for learning was never specified. Schools of thought were to address needs of humanity. Later, the monasteries brought the boarding style schools, and much lately, now studentship has gone beyond contact. Learning could now be done in open or closed universities, solo or in a group, over the net of electronics or with the ancient method of stick, chalk and duster.

In the days of old, sincerity of purpose to study, to acquire knowledge, to commitment of scholarship was a great hallmark of honour for the student. Now with the population explosion the world over, commitment to honesty, scholarship and study seem almost completely thrown to the winds. Many students now want degrees without commitment to study.

Long ago was it, when the golden age of study was humanness, aesthetics, arts, love, peace, community togetherness and development. Now, humanness has been thrown to the marines and terrorism - intimidation is consciously studied as science, technology, management sciences or what have you! Many students have exchanged patience in life for hurry and immediate achievement. Self-training students were common in past years. Now, most students believe it is impossible, and it is their bona fide right to be trained – without stress on their part! It could be said that between the then and the now of studentship, there has been a decline in worth, quality, goal, determination and understanding, due to many factors, much of which are within the students while others are beyond them.

Because of the premium now placed on education, many students now see it as a matter of all means – good, bad, crooked, or evil! May be the leadership too is in the same climate.

V. Lectureship, the Then and Now

In the then, lecturers were dedicated to research, reading and teaching. Lecturers were sanctified eggheads that were dedicated to solving human problems, especially within their community. The community of students-lecturers was referred to as the ivory tower. They were not common placed or cheap. The hallowed job of professing was with honour, respect, prestige and worth. Remuneration for the professor was the best in the land as they were regarded as custodian/depository/reservoirs of knowledge. Lecturers were given all that they needed for an effective execution of their research and study. Then lecturers were never materialistic. No one thought of owning even a teaspoon, not to talk of a house as the University supplied them.

Then, the turn came. In Nigeria, it was with the military rules. Academics were rubbish and brute force with the power of the gun became the master. The uneducated gave orders to the eggheads- even when such orders negated the principles of freedom on which the academic community was established. No wonder then that the golden age was lost with the military at least in the Nigerian education University system - when University lecturers were ordered out of the University quarters they were occupying. Subsequent ruling powers ensured that the lecturer’s pay could not take him home. Lectureship turned the bad corner – really, nose-dived - into survival and materialism. Lectureship then became another profession for self-promotion and political aggrandisement. The job then attracted the smart, the good, the bad and the ugly. With the passing of days the old, good, numbers started retiring, dying or diverting into other fields, like politics, and they were always replaced with the new breed of the smart, the ugly and the bad. It is no surprise therefore that lectureship has turned 180 degrees out of phase from what it used to stand for. Is there any further need to list the many ills often conspicuously displayed in daily newspapers – like sexual harassment, sorting, benefits in cash and kind for grades and others?

Inadequate maintenance of University facilities like libraries, laboratories, office space, and welfare packages for lecturers, have all contributed their large quota to the bashing of lectureship. In other words owners, proprietors of Universities, government and even lecturers have contributed to the present state of lectureship.

It will suffice to say that lectureship is now far different from what it was then in all thinkable ramifications except may be for the name. The issue, however, is, what are the causes, and is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

VI. Goal of University hence Humanities

Generally, universities are meant to identify and proffer solutions to human problems within the universal, as universal minds, but specifically for the communities they are located, especially in terms of research. Thus, Humanities are meant to solve human problems – cultural and humane. It is known that love, acceptance and other humane values cannot be found in chemicals, money or weapons of war, except in cultures of the Humanities. Re-creating and re-discovering the humanness in man is the task of the Humanities.

VII. Relevance of the Humanities Today

The space-ship earth, with all its potentials is fast becoming a small bowl of inhumanity. The cause and effect, action and reaction theories have built unenviable amount of fear, intimidation, war, terrorism, killing and dehumanisation in our world of today. The weapons of war have driven peace out of existence. The philosophy of suicide bombers is litmus indicator of our inhumanity. The September 11th event shows not only the after mart of suppressed ill feelings but of inhumanity. It is now time that real values like peace, serenity, love of fellow man should be sought. Man, as animal that can be trained, will only respond to his training. Training in strategies of war and in lethal weaponry have turned men into wild salvage, regardless of colour, culture or civilisation. There is need to rediscover our humanity and humanness.

In the then world, studies in the liberal arts gave rise to the acceptable growth of culture and community. The good people were many, the ugly were struggling sincerely to be good, and the bad, very few, were always finally but truly sorry for been bad. Now, the good are few, frightened and unknown, the ugly are the modal class, many, dictating the shot, and the bad are now the operators of the once humane system!

VIII. Conclusion

For genuine solution to world peace, Humanities should be returned to. Human values must be taught before guns and bombs are put in the hands of any person. To achieve this, a first degree in the Humanities ought to be a must for all that will go into professions like medicine, engineering, the war industries and the management sciences. It is the failure of many professionals that has turned the operators into heartless individuals with no meaning, value or expectation to life. Many professionals have turned money, power and /or fame into end in themselves rather than issue for servicing mankind.

Until man rediscovers his humanness and repositions studies in the Humanities as a necessity for all, value of life will ever continue to diminish by the second.


1. The New Universal Library, International Learning Systems Corporation Limited, London, 1969. Volume Fourteen TRI-ZYZ, p. 118.
2. P. B. Gove, (Ed.), Webster’s Third new International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged G & C, Merridian Company, Publishers, USA, 1971, “University”, p. 2502.
3. Ibid. p. 813, “Faculty”.
4. 1994-2002 Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. Net
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.

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