A Brief note on the Importance of Unreadable Critical Theory in the Humanities


Tenzan Eaghll in Bulletin for the Study of Religion:

Today I read my 500th article on why the humanities are failing. Since I began working in religious studies these articles have been published with abandon, all of them claiming that the humanities are devalued, underfunded, and destined to be fully eclipsed by science, neoliberalism―or some other boogey monster―and all of them suggesting some sort of reasonable solution to this crisis. Now, I do not want to detract from the value of these articles, or to deny the grave threat the academy faces from current austerity practices, but simply want to point out that this threat of obscurity and rejection has always been the horizon of critical theory in the humanities.

In the article I read today the author’s position was that the humanities have been eclipsed by scientific research and that this shadow of oblivion is not necessary. The author points to numerous scientific-like studies produced within the humanities that could revive it in a science driven world, or at least save it from irrelevance. “The humanities,” the author suggests, “are producing very scientifically relevant material,” and this should not be ignored. The article concludes, in a somewhat familiar tone, by calling for humanities scholars to make this evident, and to make their work accessible to the masses by engaging in “more public scholarship.”

What this article forgets, like all others I have ever read on this subject, is that critical work in the humanities has always been ignored, at least initially, and no amount of pandering (scientific or literary) will change this. Why? Because the fields of study that cultivate critical thinking and encourage the critique of dominant ideologies will always be marginalized.

More here.