Humanities majors share their passions

Johanna Pugh

Some say finding and pursuing a passion in college is a solid goal to have. It is not always easy, or one everyone meets.

Every student pursues higher education for different reasons, and there are a vast number of majors reflecting this.

There are scientists, there are artists, there are mathematicians and there are dancers — the list goes on.

There are also humanists.

Humanities and religious studies is a major not frequently focused on.

“We’re a quiet, unassuming major,” said Jessica Kimbrell, 31, a religious studies major. “We’re not one of the fancy majors, we’re kind of off doing our own thing.”

With this lack of attention on this broad field of study, a number of misconceptions can arise, including what, in fact, this major with these two concentrations is.

“A lot of people say, ‘oh, you’re going to be a humanitarian,’ and it’s not even close. Whenever someone asks, I always describe humanities as a mix of a bunch of different fields into one of the best fields on the planet,” said Johnny Larson, 22, a humanities major. “It’s a mix of history, a mix of culture, a mix of literature, art. I usually describe it as ‘cultural history’ but it’s so much more than that.”

Students said this insight into culture, which goes beyond the surface of basic facts, is what drew them into studying humanities.

“I really love learning about different cultures,” said Nicole Dilworth, 23, a humanities major. “In history, you learn the facts about different times and that’s really cool, but in humanities you really get this glimpse, like, this is why these things happen, more than just that they happened, and that really intrigued me.”

Most of them began their college careers as different majors. Larson was a psychology major, Kimbrell initially studied anthropology and Dilworth leaned toward theater, which she chose to minor in instead.

Humanities major Ignacio Rene Lopez, 21, said he enrolled at Sacramento State as a biology major and while he thinks this major is right for many people, it was not an academic path he was passionate about. He ended up taking “Arts and Ideas of the West: Ancient to Medieval” taught by Professor Judy Thoma and was reeled in by the material he had initially enjoyed in high school.

“It just spoke to me a lot more than bio did. It was going back into mythology. In humanities, we essentially study culture: the ideals at the time, philosophy, art, architecture, the whole shebang, the liberal arts,” Lopez said. “And I think this gave me a broader perspective on what it meant to be human. Because we essentially search for the truth. The question is, ‘what does it mean to be human?’ And I think we find the answer through the study of culture.”

Dilworth, Lopez and Larson said taking classes on Ancient Greek and Roman mythology sparked their interest in the details of other cultures and how the inner workings of past societies influence our culture and connect to the present.

The students also explained how studying humanities causes them to feel more connected to the other people around them, as well as themselves.

“My biggest fear in the world is that we’re going to become too dependent on technology and dehumanizing factors,” Larson said. “What I love about humanities is it’s based on the aesthetic; it’s based off feeling, it’s based off of getting in touch with ourselves, so I feel like it’s a very humanizing field.”

With this human connection, Lopez said he relates his studies to his minor, which, similar to Dilworth, is theater.

“The goal of acting is to express the truth and the goal of humanities is to find the truth,” Lopez said. “So I find the truth, what it means to be human, and then express it.”

Students discussed a number of ways they can apply their humanities studies to different parts of their life. For Dilworth, it is in her desire to travel and gain new perspectives.

“My parents exposed me to as much as they could, but it’s still American versions of this or that. I hope to visit other cultures and have a deeper view. I’m big on traveling, so when I travel somewhere it’ll make more sense,” Dilworth said. “Like, why it’s this way and not the way it is here in America, because you’ll have the history of it and with that I feel like I connect to people more — different cultures, different religions — like, I see humanity. Not to sound cheesy.”

Lopez said he noticed a shift in his enthusiasm when he switched his major to humanities; instead of going through the motions of schoolwork, he felt engaged and that he had a renewed sense of purpose as he read material he actually wanted to study.

Kimbrell mirrors this in her discussion of pursuing religious studies because, with it, she also felt she had found a calling.

“There’s a lot of stress on being happy, but I think it’s fulfillment and gratification from having a purpose that brings happiness,” Kimbrell said.

Kimbrell said her interest in religious studies has been a life-long evolution. She was raised Mormon and left the faith when she was 13 years old. While she said she is not particularly religious, she finds broadening her original scope on religion, and the discussion of it is important to understanding so much about people, cultures and truth.

“I think religion is the way we look for answers to things we otherwise don’t have answers to,” Kimbrell said. “Religion is a form of expression. I think if people understood different religions is just a difference in culture and not a difference in being a person, I think there’d be less conflict.”

While Lopez and Larson both expressed the comfort of having a small, close-knit department, Larson also expressed his hope more people would take humanities courses and join the major.

“[Professor Thoma] would always bring up at the beginning of class if anyone was a humanities major and when no one raised their hand she’d say, ‘By the end of the semester, I hope to make at least one of you a humanities major,’” Lopez said. “And that just so happened to be me.”