The study of Western Civilisation: why take this degree?
The BA degree we will be developing in partnership with universities is above all interesting. This will be the least boring degree you could possibly take. Yes, it will “teach you skills”, in the jargon phrase: skills in written and oral (spoken) expression, in the use of words, in analysis and presentation, which will be invaluable to you in whatever career or careers you choose, as well as in other areas of your life.
But this development won’t happen explicitly. No-one will have to take dull classes in “written and spoken skills”. Instead, your close engagement, in small groups of students as capable and motivated as you, with so many of the great ideas and works of art of our past, will inevitably make you a better thinker, writer and speaker.
And ultimately from the degree you will gain a much greater benefit than just “skills”: a benefit all liberal arts studies should confer on their students, but often do not.
You and your fellow-students will be thinking about the biggest life-meaning questions, values questions, as they have arisen in the course of our long-enduring civilisation. Why do we find some things more important than others? Are there values, activities, ways of being and seeing, which seem important to everybody? What happens when two huge value-systems collide, or merge—at the level of a whole society, or within one human heart? How do we resolve or even just ask the biggest and oldest questions about ourselves: about our experience of truth, of freedom, of beauty, of nature, of conflict, of hatred and love, of good and evil, of God and religion, of family and society, of politics, justice, duty and leadership? Who else has thought about these things over the 2500-plus years of our civilisation, and what have they thought about them? How much of what we assume to be “modern” or “correct” in our thinking and attitudes is really just a recycling of ancient insights? How much do we take for granted in our lives that is actually the outcome of centuries of struggle and progress? How can all this help us in our own lives, our decisions and relationships?
This degree may well be one of the few places in the world, quite possibly the only time in your life, when you can really engage, over a period of years, with these deepest of meaning- and values-questions: when you can gain an awareness and appreciation of the distinctive but many-sided civilisation which informs so much of what we think and do. Along with your advanced “skills”, this awareness will stay with you all your life.