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A Lecture and a Talk by Professor David Lurie (Associate Professor, Columbia University) -Report-

Will the Humanities Survive? -Report-

July 12, 2017 (Wed.) 16:30〜18:00

Waseda University, Toyama Campus Bldg. 33, 16th floor, Meeting Room No.10

Host:  TGU Global Japanese Studies

Research Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences

Ryusaku Tsunoda Center of Japanese Culture

Lecture and Talk: Japanese; Q&A: Japanese/English


Moderator:   Kimiko Kono (Waseda University, Professor)  / Hiroki Matsumoto (Waseda University, Guest Associate Professor)

Closing remarks: Kazuaki Ueno (Waseda University, Professor)

Organizer:     Hirokazu Toeda (Waseda University, Professor)

Coordinator:  Younglong Kim (Waseda University, Guest Assistant Professor)


Opening Remarks

      Following opening remarks by Professor Hirokazu Toeda (the leader of Global Japanese Studies), Professor Kimiko Kono introduced Professor David Lurie and explained the time table for the event.


Lecture by Prof. David Lurie

Prof. Lurie talked about the following five points during the lecture, based on the academic environment in the US;

1) The discourse of “The Crisis of the Humanities”

2) Plurality and diversity in crisis

3) The ratio of undergraduate students who choose humanities majors

4) General education and humanities courses for undergraduates

5) Doctoral programs and employment for researchers with PhD degrees


1) The discourse of “The Crisis of the Humanities”

Although it is often considered as a recent problem, “The Crisis of the Humanities” has, indeed, been discussed for a long time. We need to be careful with that what is regarded as a crisis is not always the same as the actual problems that we are confronting.

2) Plurality and diversity in crisis

Crisis is not monolithic, but plural and diverse. Horizontally, universities are diverse in size, and each has different crises. Also, vertically, each stage of education has its own crises. That lead us to the third point.

3) The ratio of undergraduate students who choose humanities majors

The “crisis” generally believed to exist in the US—that the number of humanities students—is decreasing is actually a mere discourse in the media without any factual data behind it. There is an “anti-humanities” tendency in the American culture, in the first place.

Also, we often see people thinking of university education as job training, and thus STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are the ones into which the number of students is always increasing. Humanities majors are believed to be less valuable in terms of career prospects and lifetime earnings. However, this is also just a discourse, and the actual data shows no significant difference from other majors. These kinds of truth should be shared not only among professors but also with graduates and companies employing students.

4) General education and humanities courses for undergraduates

We have to consider what role the humanities take as part of general education. Students have many chances to get to know the humanities when they take general education as compulsory courses. However, recently, there is a tendency to downplay the importance of the role that the humanities play in general education. Even large universities tend not to take general education seriously. When we consider the current situation and the crisis of the humanities, we should also pay attention to these compulsory courses.

5) Doctoral programs and employment for researchers with PhD degrees

A statistic in 2014 indicates that one-third of PhD holders did not get academic positions. How do we think of this “one-third”? It is generally considered that a doctoral program is a training program for becoming professors. If it is so, what is the meaning of the “one-third”? That involves a question of what doctoral program is for.


The crisis of the humanities is not monolithic but hybrid; it includes a crisis of recognition, a crisis in discourse and a crisis in imagination but it is crucial because all these affect the governmental decisions and students’ choices. There are actual crises, indeed, but they are not only for humanities but for the entire higher education system in the US.


A Talk between Prof. David Lurie and Prof. Sungsi Lee

Statements by Prof. Lee

Prof. Lee discussed a shift in the role of universities and a drastic change of intellectual infrastructure, talking about a case of Korean academia as an example. In particular, the following four topics were considered:

  1. Universities in marketization
  2. Globalization of universities
  3. Digitalization of knowledge
  4. Complexity and subdivision of knowledge


  1. Universities in marketization

Recently in Japan, there has been an argument, based on a misunderstanding, that the humanities are unnecessary. However, the true crisis is that now we are about to confront evaluations through quantification of the humanities. Although the humanities have supported the foundation of the nation-state until today, now universities are trying to transform themselves to be “transnational corporations,” and, ergo, they urge researchers to get research funding from outside.

  1. Globalization of universities

To meet international standards, researchers are also required to output their research findings in English. In addition, rigid academic fields (such as distinctions among Western history, Japanese history and Eastern history, or between linguistics and the literature of the Western Great Powers) are in need of reform.

  1. Digitalization of knowledge

The research environment has dramatically changed. Digitalization proceeded, and now it has transformed from the age of “reading historical documents” to the age of “searching historical documents.” The nature of research papers in the humanities will be affected by this shift.

In Korea, a research paper is uploaded online immediately on the same day it is presented at a conference, and thus the number of attendees is decreasing, even though person-to-person conversation is crucial in the humanities.

  1. Complexity and subdivision of knowledge

Knowledge is increasingly being subdivided in Korea. The humanities are supposed to challenge us to create new value and new fields that define the age. However, can research that lacks a grand view because of this subdivision ever have the possibility for innovation?


Responses by Prof. Lurie

  1. Universities in marketization

A similar situation to that in Korea is taking place in Europe, as well. Quantification of research outcomes is exactly the same in the UK. We have to resist the move to regard the humanities by economic measures. On the other hand, it is also true that the necessary expenses can be lower than other fields. That could be an advantage for us to tout.

  1. Globalization of universities

It is a significant question how the humanities, which used to have a mission supporting nation-states, can survive in an age in which universities become global. Comparative approaches to scholarly situations in other countries hold the possibility for the breakthrough; for example, one might compare “American Literature in the Sates” with “Japanese Literature in Japan.”

  1. Digitalization of knowledge and 4. Complexity and subdivision of knowledge

We can make a point to limit the use of digital devices and so on in our methodologies.


Response by Prof. Lee

The crisis may be inter-connected within the East Asian region. The humanities that were invented for the nation-state by modern Japan largely affect the humanities in China and Korea. Issues of historical recognition in recent years also originated in these Japanese-created humanities, and the humanities could become the key to solve such problems between nations.



  • A question to Prof. Lurie; “It is not all about discourse, but there are actually researchers inside universities who hold pessimistic views toward the humanities. What do you think of this situation?”
  • There was a question to Prof. Lee about the subdivision of research and how research should be evaluated.


Closing Remarks

   Closing Remarks were given by Prof. Kazuaki Ueno (Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences; Director of Research, Institute for Letters, Arts and Sciences).


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