Humanities and Humanism: Secular Vocations and their Public Outcomes -By Toyin Falola

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Toyin Falola

Toyin Falola


The Brilliance of Relevance

I am offering this lecture as a treatise. It is a document that is intended to make an impact on the Nigerian academy and the public: a call to action, with useful ideas to move us forward. The lecture will lay out in very cogent formulation the work of the humanities as a disciplinary mode of practice and as a method and function of an overall social pedagogy. In my conclusion, I will offer suggestions to reform the humanities. I do not pretend to have all the answers. No one does. The aim of this long lecture is to call for humanities that:

1. respond to the challenges of generating new research;
2. formulate new proposals and ideas;
3. create new images, narratives, and frameworks so that we can serve the interests of a greater number of people, instead of a few; and
4. become an integral part of change and general transformation for our citizens and our country.

Those who established our universities want results; parents who send their children to our universities want positive outcomes; and our people, in search of solutions to poverty and political problems, are desperate for change.

In fulfilling my mission, self-imposed to be sure, I will explain what the humanities do and situate the place of the humanities in the context of development, globalisation, statecraft, the West, and the production of knowledge in multiple sites. I will conclude with some recommendations.

I would like to start this lecture by highlighting some critical aspects of what we do in the humanities, and what you, individually and as a nation, gain from those of us in the humanities are so relevant that, without it, there is no humanism, both in its secular and spiritual terms. Humanity itself (as a being, in the individual and collective sense) becomes totally diminished without the humanities.

• No set of disciplines is closer to humanity and spirituality than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines is closer to development and the challenges of transformation than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines understands progress better than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines studies chaos and conflicts better than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines analyzes peace and war better than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines examines the basic units of society, the family, and kinship better than the humanities.
• No set of disciplines understands humans and the whole essence of being better than humanities.

The sciences make claims to the pursuit of emancipation and continual improvement of human life through knowledge. The social sciences also have claims about human actualisation through organisation, whether political or economic. Even if the above list is not exclusive to the humanities, it must be shared as part of the utopia of the institutions of knowledge. In this utopia, the humanities cannot be excluded.

When your mind is in turmoil, and your emotions become fragile, you call on us.
When you have bad dreams, and see witches pursuing you, you call on us.
When there are conflicts to resolve, you call on us.
When peace breaks down, you call on us.
When you are seeking leaders and the understanding of leadership qualities, you
call on us.
When you arrive home in the evening to relax or you want to spend your weekend in the comfort of your home, we give you films (the almighty Nollywood films!) based on the stories we invent for you.
When you look elegant in your attire, you benefit from our creativity.
When you are sick, you go to the doctor for treatment, but the healing words come
from us. We give you the humanism to cope.
When you die, and the doctors have been paid, the hospitals have collected their
money, we do the celebration of life for you. We pray for your body to rest in peace.
What else do you want from us, I ask?

Enough of my new song without a melody! However, I ask the question because there are those who bad mouth the humanities, those who see lives and living as a “cash- and-carry” affair. In a cash-and-carry mentality, the stomachs get bigger while the brains get smaller. In a cash-and-carry mentalilty, a mother can tell her daughter not to be a school teacher at Ijebu-Igbo because the pay is small but to go into prostitution in Italy where the pay is bigger.

I will not rejoin my colleagues in defending the humanities as they have already done so in their various published inaugural lectures. And there is no need for me to keep defending the humanities, since their relevance and value are clear to me. We should not disfigure the humanities by always begging for attention. Rather, it is better to reflect on the characterology and spirit of the humanities by enlightening and enlivening, by asserting their contributions, and also by exposing the ignorance of some people, as well as the politics behind their false ideas.

In the Bible, Luke 8:16 reads, “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.” Let me find a “sermonic” way to remove your lamp under the bed:

When you touch any object, you automatically touch upon ideas and engage in
critical appreciation.
That object you touch is a part of the humanities, from your head to your toes.
When you read a book, even on biochemistry, you touch the humanities. When you
listen to a song, one of us composed it.
See yourself and your world in a different way!
An engineer made your car, but he does not create your feelings.
We pray for you not to have an accident—but it is our humanism that will rescue you from the disaster that Ogun may choose to bring about—the engineer has already abandoned you!

When you follow the intellectual connections that I am trying to make between knowledge, creativity, and quotidian practices, my points should be clearer by now. The humanities engage in various reflections and refractions about varied experiences of life and living.

Ideas of sustainable development will come from the humanities in ways that are different from those of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. We tell people in STEM what society wants or needs. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers, however, are not the ones with the skills, time, and competence to create long-term development plans. The humanities do:

We label and assign values.
We measure and critique progress.
We struggle to create political choices, and even control those political choices.

It is not by accident that those in the humanities dominate administration and politics everywhere in the world. See the number of those in the humanities who have been vice-chancellors in Nigeria alone. Consequently, the humanities, and those who represent the disciplines can become the subject of praise and criticisms. The question would then be, as in the case of vice-chancellors, has their participation in the administration of universities brought any significant or unique contributions? In other words, what impact has their presence had?

The answers to development problems will not just come from STEM: their suggestions and solutions have to be grounded in humanistic values before they can work. Those of us in the humanities redirect their ideas toward enduring values that sciences and technologies must promote. We see the dangers ahead. When countries do not listen to the warnings, they end up paying heavy prices, as in the example of the automobile culture in the United States, which has created enormous challenges for managing cities.

As a matter of practical policy at all levels of government, you and I must insist that we create ideas that consider the unintended consequences of new policies, new technologies, and new ideas and goods coming from abroad. For instance, when many secular and religious activities were being located along the Ibadan-Lagos Expressway, were there no humanity scholars to warn that we will pay a heavy toll in traffic delays and unnecessary deaths, sometimes in large numbers? Thus, humanities equals vision and imagination and critical apprehension.

Who determines values and relates those values to development? We do. STEM-generated values are not necessarily culturally grounded. A conglomeration of those values must be considered before we take major decisions. What makes sense as a medical value or an economic value may not make sense as a cultural value. Society functions best when it is viewed holistically. The humanities constitute a complex infrastructure to build an enduring society that creates better living choices and that ensures the continuity of “the idea of humanness.”

I have converted the practical relevance of the humanities to a song and poem, and to a digestible muse. Each of the points mentioned above constitutes a core discipline of its own. When you cluster these examples—human needs, feelings, humanism—into their disciplinary constituencies, you will find fields that we recognise as human disciplines: history, languages, anthropology, philosophy, literature, culture, archaeology, linguistics, classics, and political science.

In generating ideas, conducting research, and presenting their findings, the humanities do not follow the experimental methodology of STEM. Due in part to their methodology and concerns, some classifications of the humanities include law and disciplines that we now call the social sciences. Some universities offer the B.A. degree in economics, government, mathematics, and in some other sciences in an effort to locate them in the humanities.

Humanist is the vocational label that describes the practitioners of the fields in the humanities. Humanists deal with the expression of humanism in various forms, the emphasis on human culture, the practices and behaviors of individuals in their collective and aggregated manners. Human cultures are differentiated into categories that lead us to ethnic, racial and gender categories as well as physical sizes and shapes and behavioral practices—practices that deal with how we as humans organise our lives on a day-by-day basis: what we eat and drink, our fears, love, hate, dislikes, expectations, aspirations, desire, etc. Humanists specialise in understanding these behavioural practices. The humanistic disciplines, with or without empirical data, speculate about the past and present, a task that is always difficult. Humanists are critical of institutions and politics. The various disciplines pursue their research and presentations in various ways. Historians, for example, are interested in the origins of these practices and in societies and their institutions and how they have changed over time. Philosophy studies the principles encoded in practices and thought systems. Every language has features that linguists try to understand. Literature searches for imaginations within creative expressions: the words that convey feelings. Anthropology deals with understanding all aspects of the human experience.

Actors, singers, and dancers do performing arts: theatre, music, and dance respectively. Many of them display their skills and talents before audiences. Performing artists use their bodies, various objects and people as mediums of expression. Those in plastic arts turn to clay, paint, metals, and other media to create artistic objects. Religious studies analyse various religious traditions, from the indigenous to the universal. In combinations, the humanities include collective and individual experiences, empathy and sympathy, reflections on citizenship, and the understanding of nationalities over time. The humanist’s search is never for the absolute truth, as this is difficult; rather, it is always a search for the record and dimensions of human experiences, their meanings, and the contexts of those meanings. In totality, the humanities create the cultural capital needed by any society for its survival and reproduction.

The humanities have been with us for centuries and consitute part of the core of the majority of universities. In its Latin origin, studia humanitatis refers to the clusters of education, culture, and refinement. A “cultivated man,” in its Renaissance Latin formation, was an educated person who was able to read, write, and argue. By the fiftteenth century, to be so refined was to understand the classical works in Latin and Greek which, in turn, meant history, grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, and poetry. Athough now in decline in the academy, classics held primacy as the foundation of the humanities. Classics became constituted into the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. This explains why the highest attainable degree in any field is a “philosophiae doctor” (doctorate of philosophy), philosophy being the grand “patrem” of knowledge. With the consolidation of the fields of languages and rhetoric in the nineteenth century, Classics began a process of decline.

While the great ideas offered by the key intellectuals of that ancient past remain with us, twentieth-century economics have undermined the classics. However, our debts to the classics remain through the present day, constituting part of practitioners’ arguments on various issues and the contemporary curricula for a broad education. Classics promoted the broad education that created the initial set of seven disciplines that we now call the liberal arts, which were further divided into two clusters: the trivium (logic, grammar, and rhetoric) and the quadrivium (music, astronomy, arithmetic, and geometry). Notice here the merger of what we now call the social sciences and arts to produce a “refined person” who must acquire competence in various aspects of society. The trivium and quadrivium were combined into knowledge and skills to produce “ways of doing” things, a qualification for good citizenship. It was a practice, that is, a skilled knowledge.

Then, by the fifteenth century, in the early modern period, humanities changed from the cultivation of citizenship to subjects of study, with history and literature becoming the discipline’s cornerstones. These two disciplines were no longer skills to practice; they laid a new foundation for the post-fifteenth-century universities. Their relevance was assured with the economic transformations of the twentieth century.

What do the humanities do or are expected to do? Let me summarise some of what I have said so far, and add to it, for the purposes of clarity:

• The humanities are the repository of a community’s stories, histories, images, desires, and contradictions. We respond to our local spaces and conditions. For instance, in the context of a university located in a dominantly Islamic area, as in the case of Uthman dan Fodio University in Sokoto, one of the primary roles of the humanities is to understand Islam, Islamic cultures, and Islamic history, notably that of the Sokoto Caliphate. In the case of Olabisi Onabanjo University, many would expect it to generate significant knowledge on the Yoruba. The University of Maiduguri must produce great results on the Kanuri. It is precisely because of the linkage between the Ivory Tower and its immediate environment that each university must create its own niche, and make a positive impact on its place of location. To study aspects of locality does not have implications for the universality of the claims of the idea of the university and the cosmopolitan view of its identity.
• The humanities recognise that representations of people, stories, places, histories, and the like, are not self-evident but that they must be shaped in a variety of ways with different consequences. This representation, one may argue, is not always divorced of ideological and political agendas nor does it need to compromise intellectual rigour and research objectivity.
• Voice and authorship matter enormously. We are not only interested in the soundness of ideas but in who gets to speak and which communities have spaces for their voices to be heard. Such voices and authorship can come from multiple sources and occupy academic and non-academic spaces. For instance, scholars can talk about the jihad or the palace of the Sultan, but their orientation and contents need not be the same.
• The humanities are potentially individual and private on the one hand but collective and public on the other: individual and private with regard to composition (and even consumption) of some cultural texts, and collective and public in terms of their performativity and effects.
• The humanities represent desires of various kinds, including both individual and collective aspirations.
• The humanities represent a certain ordering of the world that produces various degrees of satisfaction, pleasure, or even peace (through harmony, resolution, catharsis, repetition, etc.).
• The humanities must be transmitted. This is not only a function of schooling and curriculum, though those are the most obvious points at which one would think about intervening. The transmission is also intergenerational, which requires mentorship, apprenticeship, or other forms of training. In addition, the transmission also comes from sharing the joys and sorrows of a particular community.
• The humanities must be funded. Questions of job security, free speech, complicity, and the like always exist. This is where the role of diasporic African intellectuals may be relevant, though we have to ask how practitioners of the humanities within Africa can have greater financial security and independence free from political pressures.
• The humanities function according to genre but also break free of generic conventions and expectations.
• We ask the question: “Who are we as humans?” The humanities, in American Life, answers: it “reveal(s) how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world where irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.”
• In response to recent technological changes, a new field has emerged: digital humanities. It should now be possible to collect and digitise our stories, mythologies, Ifá, etc. as full corpora. New methodological tools, too, can be developed to store them, analyse them, and generate and connect research with sustainable economies. Digital humanities will facilitate online implementation and interaction of searchable humanitarian research data, which is usually always open access, crowd sourced, and large in size.
• Reflecting on leadership in the humanities, whether by individual artists, intellectuals, or politicians, we should recognise that all possible leaders come from communities, and therefore they all are embedded in specific collective and communal humanistic practices. Our goal is to revitalise their connections to their histories and traditions and to invite intellectuals to create something new.

Assaults On the Humanities

The last three decades have witnessed a variety of assaults on the humanities. Tensions exist within the various disciplines, partly because of remarkable shifts produced by cultural theories and post-modernism, which questions and seeks to democratise knowledge and to breakdown the barriers and boundaries of patriarchy. The humanities accepted the challenges, and have injected new ideas into their processes and methodologies. A number of subfields have been forced to become more empirical and to incorporate new theories, which is all well and good.

Then came the greatest assault: the world’s economy began to privilege new financial ways of generating wealth without manufacturing. An Internet age emerged. Technologies expanded, creating new kinds of jobs. We have entered the era of a knowledge economy. STEM fields have become the beneficiaries of an Internet-based knowledge economy. People begin to raise questions about the relevance of the humanities. In Nigeria and countries where the economy has not been well diversified, responding to global forces become a challenge. Technical skills become more important in securing jobs.

A new generation of young men and women began to seek knowledge—not in books but on the Internet. Today, a young person can claim to have a university degree without having read a book, and they are proud to say so. Access to books has become more expensive and university teachers began to use handouts. In literature, books are assigned that the students have never seen; they only read about their critical appreciation on the Internet. The humanities have become devastated, drawing more and more students who are not interested in the fields of study or are too weak to benefit from lectures.

There are even cases of students who applied for courses in the social sciences but are pushed to religious studies, philosophy, and classics. History is not offered in secondary schools, and universities have to admit those without the foundation in critical subject fields in the humanities, such as music and art. These fields are marginalised and/or eliminated for failing the expectations of the culture of consummerism, where value is measured by the instant financial returns that the field generates. In sum, cultural capital is being replaced by Internet capital, and financial gains with devastating consequences on the humanities.

A general decadence in society adds its own tolls. We now have a large number of students in the humanities who are not interested in what they study. Like the students, the lecturers are neither interested in the lectures from which they earn their living. After completing their first degrees, lecturers search in vain for jobs. Then they obtain masters degrees, but still have no luck in finding jobs. Without interest or passion, they register for a PhD degree, which then gives them the jobs in which they are not interested but are the only option they have. For the most part, they teach the same subject they already detest to a set of learners who hate being in class. Thus, the academy becomes a conglomeration of tragedies for humanities and a dangerous theatre for showcasing “acts” and “scenes” of a poor play meant to promote the knowledge base.

In the West, the impact has been felt as well. One liberal art and sciences university has been closed down. Historically black colleges and universities are finding it very difficult to survive and operate at optimal level. I offer here some responses of the West in the hope that Nigeria will find value in some of them. In the United States in 2009, the American Academy of Arts and Social Sciences established the Humanities Indicators to supply updates covering information on jobs, new research, funding, etc. The reports indicate that the humanities are doing much better than we think, and that the crisis is actually exaggerated. Liberal arts education is encouraged, a combination of disciplines in natural sciences and some disciplines in the humanities. A number of universities actually insist on a core curriculum that includes courses in literature, arts, and philosophy, irrespective of the students’ major. Because occupations such as medicine and law operate at graduate levels, any degree in the humanities and the requisite pre-law or pre-med curricula qualify a student.

Elsewhere in Europe, as the debate on the value of the humanities rages without end, Helen Small reviews the arguments since the Victorian age and points to five enduring reasons for the debate on the value of the humanities:

i) they do a distinctive kind of work, preserve and extend distinctive kinds of understanding (broadly, qualitative understanding of the meaning making process of the culture), and possess a distinctive relation to the idea of knowledge as being inextricable from human subjectivity;
ii) their work is useful to society: it assists in the preservation and curation of the culture, and of the skills for interpreting and reinterpreting that culture to meet the needs and interests of the present; it trains students who go on to a wide range of practical activities; and its objects of study and the ways in which it studies them bring a variety of benefits to a culture well beyond that of the university itself;
iii) the humanities may make a vital contribution to individual happiness and to the happiness of large groups…This way of valuing the humanities has deep roots in the history of Western philosophy; it offers a richer and more accurate account of happiness than is recognized in most of the current and psychological literature on the subject; and
iv) The humanities can make a vital contribution to the maintenance and the health of the democracy. That contribution rests on their role as centres for the higher study and practice of the skills of critical reasoning, debate, and evaluation of ideas that are ‘the core practices of a democracy’.
v) The value of the objects and cultural practices the humanities study and the kinds of scholarship they cultivate have value ‘for their own sake’—that they are good in themselves.


In view of how the debate between the humanities and STEM has been framed, and in view of how governments have privileged STEM over the humanities, the issue has to be addressed, as I have done below. However, I would like to propose an alternative thinking. The idea that STEM will take us to the “promised land” of sustainable development and let us enjoy life in peace and happiness thereafter is a grand illusion. The country has promoted STEM, abolished history in schools, discouraged disciplines like sociology, and created specialised universities in engineering and health sciences. However, let us review the results:

1. From airplane to cell phones, most products that we consume do not derive from local inventions or patents from universities. We are yet to see the big ideas from the products of science and engineering schools that have thus far transformed our lives and the way we do things.
2. When those with the means have serious health problems, they run abroad to take care of themselves.
3. STEM has yet to deliver the spaces of leisure and happiness for our citizens as those with the means go to Dubai to appreciate architecture and facilities.
4. Our rural areas and youth have yet to be transformed.

Rather than create academic dichotomies, we should create academic intersectionalities, that is, integrate STEM and the humanities to service our collective development projects and our collective humanism and humanistic values. Literature and engineering can be connected: Literary persons can create aesthetics for a bridge, a poet can compose verses on a road. An engineer can draw ideas from a literary person to create technical elegance. And no one has exempt engineers from writing stories!

This great university may begin a process of reorganising its curricula to rethink its courses to integrate the humanities with STEM. The concept of General Studies was meant to do some elements of this integration. General Studies is a great idea, but it needs to be empowered in various ways. We need to insist that the majority of students take them seriously, as some tend to see them as a nuisance. Thus, universities have to re-evaluate them to make them a critical component of all degree programmes. General Studies have to be strengthened, expanded and be made impactful.

The thinking behind General Studies is not the problem, as I see things on paper. In the University of Ibadan model, as I understand it, there are basic introductory courses in the humanities (such as, African Cultures and Civilisations; Philosophy and Logic; Use of English; and Entrepreneurship) that STEM students, ‎including medical students, must register for and pass before they graduate. Usually all science and medical students take the same courses at the 100 level. Similarly, all social sciences and humanities students take General Studies Program courses like Science, Technology, and Humankind; Entrepreneurship; Philosophy and Logic. Courses like African Cultures and Civilisations include religion, language, history, and others.

Similarly, the course Science, Technology and Humankind includes about nine science – and technology-based subjects, including physics and mathematics, inclusive. The idea is to expose students to subjects in areas other than their disciplines. Thus, there is a foundation to build upon.

One way to create a greater impact, as I am recommending, is to put intersectional courses under the rubric of “General Studies.” What I am proposing is not “general” but “specific”: courses mounted in the core departments. For instance, it is mandatory in many states in the United States for all students to complete history and government before they can acquire degrees. Professors teaching those courses do not assume that their students are not majoring and doing it with minimal requirements in mind: they must be rigorous.

There are various ways of moving in the direction of intersectionalities, and I would like to suggest three. The first is the ongoing concept of General Studies which is already in place. We must teach the history of medicine and those in medical schools must be required to take it, while those in the humanities must take an introduction to medicine class. Courses on how to manage money and time should be mandatory. All these ideas, I think, are already found acceptable. Thus, what is needed is their full implementation and evaluation.

Second, we must search for imaginative courses to contribute to the disciplines, not separate them as if they share little or nothing in common. Ifá and computer science can be united, and those who can improve our knowledge of Ifá may come from mathematics and physics—not only from Literature. If we think critically about how disciplines connect, rather than how they diverge, new ways of presentation will emerge. I understand the rigidity of the National Universities Commission in this matter, but voices have to cry out loudly that flexibility works better than rigidity. In real life, flexibility bends and survives; rigidity breaks and dies. In many western universities, students are encouraged to do history and chemistry, English and nursing, and they have created new labels for their degrees, as the one called Plan 2 at my school, which is actually the title of the degree. Years ago, some universities created Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) as a degree. Now, we must create new programmes that combine STEM with the humanities.

Third, those in the humanities must be compelled to take courses that will inject skills into their education. On this, I have spoken forcefully in two convocation addresses at Osun State University and Tai Solarin University of Education. Contrary to what many think, the Nigerian economy is dominated by the informal sector, although the talk is always about the formal, dominated by oil. If our analysis can focus more on the informal, we will tap into the extensive resources and talents of our people. The formal is the intense zone of corruption, and the informal, while it manifests its own excesses, may be easier to correct. My own argument is that the humanities must be integrated with the informal sector, that universities must formalize the informal into disciplines. I see nothing wrong with a degree in history and masonry or even history and civil engineering and/or architecture.

Fourth, the humanities must connect to the living and to humanism in ways that also connect with STEM. History, my own discipline, is not about recounting dates and facts that poor students have to see as the core knowledge. Literature is not about memorising verses and prose. The most productive questions should ask how courses connect with the larger issues of building a viable society. In answering those questions, the humanities and STEM become better connected. A believer in STEM once made a remark to bring home my point, which I will quote at length:

Without the humanities to teach us how history has succeeded or failed in directing the fruits of technology and science to the betterment of our tribe of homo sapiens, without the humanities to teach us how to frame the discussion and to properly debate the uses-and the costs of technology, without the humanities to teach us how to safely debate how to create a more just society with our fellow man and woman, technology and science would eventually default to the ownership of- and misuse by-the most influential, the most powerful, the most feared among us.

The proposal here is not for a melting pot but a meeting point for the humanities. In a melting-pot scenario, two phenomena (related or unrelated) merge and dissolve into a new form, each one losing its original identity. In the meeting-point model, two meet and strengthen each other so as to provide the much-needed strength capable of propeling the newfound, common strain into a new but fortified dispensation, which neither one would have been able to achieve alone. The proposed relationship between STEM and the humanities can only bring about lasting products that will not only benefit the twenty-first century’s sagging intelligentsia but bring to human consumers fortified end products and human capital that serve the global village with minimal strength but maximum profits. This is an experiment that has a low probability of failure.

Our Future

In order to link the humanities with nation building in such a way as to bring about development, peace and progress, the following need to occur:

i) The ability to reclaim and repackage many aspects of our own past including knowledge systems and ideas, creativity, and enduring values. It should be possible for the humanities to move beyond the creation of ideas and knowledge production to actice participation in the development processes and to tangibly connect their bases of knowledge to measureable outcomes that can enhance the quality of life of the citizenry in African societies and beyond.

ii) The ability to set appropriate boundaries to contain and curtail the domination by external forces, especially the devastating impact of Western capitalism and culture.

iii) The reorganisation, creation, and presentation of diverse knowledge at all levels of the educational system; the need to understand the nature of the humanities and the educational principles on which policies are made to enhance development; and the decolonisation of the mind of any form of beliefs and practices using philosophical tools of reason and experience to human creativity and values.

iv) Knowledge creation must not be grounded in always borrowing, and accepting Western cultural imperialism. Both our scholars and many Western scholars must understand their own complicity in cultural imperialism in the context of globalisation.

v) The creation of a diversified economy, such that the products of our universities can find a foothold. In the present circumstance, no matter how well trained the graduates may be, the possibility that they continue to be disillusioned remains high. These young minds currently have a mindset that they live in a milieu that suffocates them, an environment they are not proud of, and a government that they cannot identify with.

vi) The creation of a political citizenship such that there will be greater individual commitment to the nation itself and less to narrow particularistic identities.

vii) The emergence of credible leadership at all levels, one that is committed to good governance, responsible public service, is less interested in the rewards of office, and guided by the principle that people matter. A strong awareness must develop that anyone seeking public office must first and foremost have the interest of people at heart. There is no need for anyone to hold public office if they do not care about people.

viii) The empowerment of communities to organise their spaces and people to meet their legitimate desire, to protect themselves, to practice their religion and culture the way they find them approprate within constituted boundaries and defined freedom. We have to protect the rights of individuals. We must also think about how to deal with the rights of individuals who elect to opt out of their community, without the use of the instrumentalities of violence. The humanities must intervene in questions of rights, and must contribute to various issues that arise in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state. All cultures have their centre (mainstream) and their margins. Traditions have varying degrees of “tolerance” for the margins of their communities. We have some examples of cultures that acknowledge the special role of those that are different or out of the norm. The other arena that deals with marginality is criminal justice. When some groups are persecuted, it can mean they are criminalised. Again, one can look at law as well as the cultural values and discourses that underwrite and justify the laws. The role of the humanities is argued by many to expand “tolerance.” In general, I feel that is too simplistic, though I accept it as an overall good aim. The humanities certainly must work courageously to create spaces for greater dialogue between various parties and viewpoints. But the humanities must also confront the contradictions of its own era and seek imaginative resolutions, even fictional ones. This may involve creating new hierarchies of value and the willingness to risk, for example, marginalizing those that are corrupt or violent, etc.

i) The remoralisation of society to move away from decadent values, immoral practices, and corruption. This is not asking the humanities to take the place of religion, as it will correspond to the rise of liberal humanism in Europe from the late 18th and 19th centuries, what is referred to as the Englightenement, but Africa has to avoid the cultural pitfalls of European modernism.

ii) Empowering and recapitalising the poor, especially rural African women, in a way that the informal economies can keep expanding and to make the people less dependent on charity, totally independent of the rich, and unexploited by those in power.

iii) The acceptance of gender equality, the recognition of the contribution of women to political, economic and socio-cultural development and their empowerment at all levels, but most especially the empowerment and legal protection for rural women who constitute the backbone of African economies. Universities must be aggressive in recruiting more women as teachers, administrators, and students. Indeed, a substantial fund must be set aside for the primary purpose of expanding women’s access to education. We must ensure that women are recruited in greater number to all areas of the sciences, engineering, medicine, and other professions. The numbers of women obtaining those degrees need to become public, and if the current system does not work well, we may even opt for conventional universities for women in order to feed them to all the occupations.

iv) The ability to reinvent ourselves and create something original and authentic for the changing contours of the 21st century knowledge economy and to take into consideration the tremendous shifts in the global economy in recent decades as a result of increasing impacts of globalisation, a signficant restructuring of the global economies, the growing impacts of technological change, social media, and the need for universities to participate more fully in the digitalisation of the Humanities and Social Sciences. To do this will require the participation and involvement of creative thinkers and innovators who are not afraid to think outside of the box to become leaders rather than followers of global trends and issues in higher education and beyond. In order to accomplish these goals, various forms of incentivisation must be developed and utilised. I hope I have defined our relevance, the connections between what we do and the aspirations of our people. As we transform the humanities, so too are we able to deliver greater service to the people, and become part of the development process.

Toyin Falola is a Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities, University of Texas at Austin and President, African Studies Association.

This is an excerpt of the 2015 Faculty of Arts Lecture, Olabisi Onabanjo University, on delivered on July 30, 2015.