Bhabha promotes the humanities
Harvard professor Homi Bhabha emphasized the use of the humanities in understanding political violence, criticizing the lack of funding for such programs.
On Feb. 22, Professor of English Homi K. Bhabha delivered a lecture entitled “Between Civility and Barbarism: Some Thoughts on the Fate of the Humanities.” Bhabha is the Anne F. Rothenberg professor of the humanities and director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University.
Bhabha was born in Mumbai, India and attended the University of Mumbai and then Oxford University. He has taught at universities including Oxford, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, University College in London, the University of Chicago and now Harvard. In his years in academia, Bhabha has become renowned for his work as a literary theorist.
Prior to the lecture, Bhabha participated in a roundtable discussion, sharing his vast knowledge of post-colonial studies with students from the English, French and anthropology departments, all of whom had studied Bhabha’s work.
In his introduction for Bhabha, Julian D. Taylor Associate Professor of Classics Kerill O’Neill said, “India has just recognized Professor Bhabha as a national hero,” referring to Bhabha’s status as a Padma Bhushan Award winner for 2012. This award is India’s third highest civilian honor, given for work in any field, from literature to science and technology.
Impressed by the intellectual skill of the students who participated in the roundtable, Bhabha began his lecture by expressing his support of the humanities departments at the College in their attempts to establish a humanities center on the Hill with a grant from the Mellon Foundation. “I hope and pray that the gods at Mellon will smile on you, Kerill, and you will be inaugurating your own humanities center,” Bhabha said.
Moving on, Bhabha warned, “According to the National Science Foundation, in 2005 spending on science and technology was 46 times spending on the humanities,” adding that “in 2010 direct mail expenditures were $45.2 billion while expenditures on textbooks were $10.2 billion.” While science and technology are receiving increased focus and funding, the humanities are receiving even less of both.
Bhabha described the lack of funding for the humanities not just as a problem for humanities departments but for all academic departments. He said that humanities are “rooted in the character of university education as neither a beginning nor end, but the middle,” adding that humanistic disciplines exist in the middle of things.
To Bhabha, it is the humanities’ power over language that makes them so important in the world. “There is a profound relationship between the text and the world and language and life,” he said. Bhabha stressed the power of the humanities in building thoughtful, strong communities.
Using the example of the Rwandan genocide, Bhabha emphasized that “we have to learn from barbarism in language” and that “the education in the humanities was absolutely crucial to the creation of new citizens” in Rwanda.
Bhabha argued that language can be used either as a tool for barbarism or for civility, but, with an effort to take control of language and become educated in the humanities, we can ensure that language and the humanistic disciplines are used to maintain stability.
He also addressed the skepticism of many who do not see the direct value of the humanities, saying that “the humanities place you in the most human of all positions: the position of unsatisfaction,” a position which he said “opens your minds and hearts.”
According to Bhabha, the humanities give a perspective of the past through the words and ideas of the ancestors that allows us to “learn to fulfill our goals of equality, freedom and well-being,”—common goals of the people of any democratic society.