Why A Well-Rounded Liberal Arts Education Matters

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By Mr. Daniel Shaw, Belhaven University Professor and Admission Counselor 

I’m an accounting major—why do I have to study literature? So runs the common question. In fact, a student of mine posed it to me just last week. Every honest student asks this question in one form or another—even those who love literature. I’m not shocked by it because, even after earning two degrees in English, I continue to ask myself the same thing. Aren’t there more productive ways to spend one’s time?

The difficultly in answering the questions is simply deciding where to start. But first there is usually a bit of pride that needs exposing, and I have no qualms in turning the question around: “Why shouldn’t we study literature?” Why shouldn’t we have to grapple with the fundamental questions of our own humanity?  Why shouldn’t we be forced to recognize that we are part of a much larger story?

Literature has, among many others, a humbling effect. It shows us that we are not the center of the universe and, happily, that we are not the first person to experience triumphs or confusion or loss. I say “happily” because there is sympathy to be had and self-pity to be lost. But ultimately it leaves us longing for one who can truly “sympathize with our weaknesses, […] who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”

Good literature asks, “What is man?”  Scripture poses the same inquiry. However, it does not stop there but adds, “that you are mindful of him.” Literature shows us that, in one sense, we are indeed small and insignificant. That is reason enough to read. But the good news is that there is a God, all-powerful and transcendent, who nevertheless remains very much mindful of us.

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