Paul Jay’s The Humanities “Crisis” and the Future of Literary Studies

Newly published from Palgrave Macmillan is Paul Jay’s The Humanities “Crisis” and the Future of Literary Studies. Jay, who is Professor of English and a Fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Thinking at Loyola University Chicago, examines in the book recent debates about the role of the humanities in higher education. As he describes,

The Humanities I point out that the current humanities crisis recycles anxieties about their value that have a long history. In our own time, students and parents worry the humanities serve no practical purpose, while many who endorse their cultural value complain an over-professionalized faculty preoccupied with esoteric theories and political agendas has left them compromised. I argue both concerns are misplaced. Humanists and their supporters, while emphasizing the social and cultural value of a humanities education, should not be shy about stressing how the humanities also teach students a set of useful skills, and that they are most effectively taught in courses that emphasize theoretical thinking, sensitivity to social justice, and the ability to use scholarly and critical methodologies. Focusing on the field of literary studies, I argue that the value of the humanities must be framed in a balanced way that stresses both the importance of the cultural knowledge they embody, and the utility of the transferable skills they teach. The real humanities crisis is not intellectual but budgetary, and it can be opposed most effectively by taking a multifaceted approach to explaining their value in twenty-first century higher education.

The book’s Introduction (full-text online [PDF]) is followed by chapters on “The Humanities Crisis Then and Now”; “Professionalism and Its Discontents”; “Humanism, the Humanities, and Political Correctness”; “Getting to the Core of the Humanities, or Who’s Afraid of Gloria Anzaldúa?”; “Aesthetics, Close Reading, Theory, and the Future of Literary Studies”; and a Conclusion on “The Humanities and the Public Sphere in the Age of the Internet.” (See chapter abstracts here.)

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