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Palgrave Macmillan

The Humanities "Crisis" and the Future of Literary Studies

ISBN 9781137403308
Publication Date July 2014
Formats Hardcover Ebook (PDF) Ebook (EPUB) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

The Humanities "Crisis" and the Future of Literary Studies explores the idea that the humanities seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis. Students and parents worry they 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. Jay argues both concerns are misplaced. He insists the humanities do teach students a set of useful skills, and that they are most effectively taught in courses that stress theoretical thinking, sensitivity to social justice, and the ability to use scholarly and critical methodologies. Focusing on the field of literary studies, Jay argues 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.

Paul Jay is Professor of English and Fellow at the Center for Interdisciplinary Thinking at Loyola University Chicago, USA.

1. The Humanities Crisis Then and Now
2. Professionalism and Its Discontents
3. Humanism, the Humanities, and Political Correctness
4. Getting to the Core of the Humanities, or Who's Afraid of Gloria Anzaldúa?
5. Aesthetics, Close Reading, Theory, and the Future of Literary Studies
6. The Humanities and the Public Sphere in the Age of the Internet


"What the world needs now is a defense of the humanities that puts the past thirty or forty years of literary criticism and theory front and center. Seriously. All too often, when scholars in the humanities try to explain their work to a skeptical or curious public, they revert to the anodyne language of the liberal arts brochure, as if it would be bad PR to talk about 'the contingency of value'– or as if everyone would like us if we simply issued an apology: 'turns out we were wrong– the sign is not arbitrary after all.' Thankfully, Paul Jay is having none of it. The Humanities "Crisis" and the Future of Literary Studies reminds me (and will remind you) how our understanding of the humanities has been enriched by interpretive theories and new social movements– and why their varieties of critical thinking are valuable in and out of the classroom. Any humanist hoping to engage with a skeptical or curious public should read this book." - Michael Bérubé, Director, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, Pennsylvania State University, USA
"The word on the street today is that the humanities are in crisis, partly because of shrinking budgets and job-conscious students, partly because 'theory' has allegedly turned those students off. In this sharply argued book, Paul Jay convincingly refutes both these popular views, demonstrating that humanities education and its theoretical inquiries teach students the very analytical and communicative skills employers are looking for in many fields." - Gerald Graff, Professor of English and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA; Author of Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind
"Anyone seeking arguments in support of the humanities will find a rich resource in the materials that Paul Jay has put together in this book. He combines a thorough synthesis of debates across the field with well-reasoned and persuasive arguments that go beyond the tired bromides and platitudes too often hauled out in support of the study of literature, philosophy, and other humanistic disciplines. In the process, he lays to rest some of the myths and misunderstandings that have created a rhetoric of "crisis," and offers his readers solid evidence that the humanities are as vital today as in any other moment." - Johanna Drucker, Breslauer Professor of Bibliographical Studies, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
"With this book, Paul Jay enters the national debate on the crisis in the humanities, elucidating the standoff between those who argue the value of literature for its own sake and those who argue the value of the humanities as an arena in which to hone professional skills." - Sidonie Smith, Professor of English, University of Michigan, USA
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