Humanities in Western Civilization the Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

In some cultures, however, dance is also used for spiritual purposes. The art of creating dances is known as choreography.

Outside of the performing arts, one of the most important features of the humanities is philosophy. Philosophy is derived from an ancient Greek term that means "the love of wisdom." Philosophy studies life, the nature of existence, and what it means to use one's reason. Philosophy is one of the oldest subjects of study that our civilization knows. In the sixteenth century, philosophy led to the study of physics, while in the nineteenth century, philosophy would branch out into the newly emergent field of psychology. According to Immanuel Kant, "Ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three sciences: physics, ethics, and logic." Today, philosophy in inclusive of many more branches of thought, including cognitive science, wherein scholars attempt to determine the nature of systems of intelligent and understand modes of thought, reasoning, and speech.

Another key component of the humanities is religion. It is believed that religious belief started back in the Neolithic Period. A lot of early religious worship involved the worship of the Sun and the Moon. There were also such figures as the Sky Father and the Mother Goddess that became the subject of religious worship during the earliest periods. Around the sixth century B.C., a number of different philosophies and religions began to emerge in the West - as well as in the East. Some of the earliest established faiths include Buddhism and Hinduism in India, and Zoroastrianism in Persia. In China, three schools of thought were to emerge - Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism - that would dominate Chinese thought and belief up to the present day. The predominant religion, Confucianism, abided by the power and example of tradition as establishing a means and method for political morality. In the west, the Greek philosophical tradition, as seen in the works of Plato and Aristotle, would come to have a major influence in the establishment of Western faiths.

Many of today's religions are in fact Abrahamic religions that can be traced back to a common Semitic tradition. The life of Abraham, an esteemed patriarch, is featured in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. Abraham also features as a prophet in the Quran. Many of the world's major religions - including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity - can all be traced back to the story of Abraham.

The tradition of visual art, and its evolution throughout the course of western civilization, has played a central role in the humanities. Most art traditions can be traced back to Greece and Rome, or, in the East, to India, China, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, and Mesoamerica. Ancient Greek art saw a veneration of the human physical form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty and anatomically correct proportions. Ancient Roman art depicted gods as idealized humans, shown with characteristic distinguishing features (i.e. Zeus' thunderbolt).

In the Middle Ages, Byzantine and Gothic art came to the forefront of visual expression. These forms of art were rooted in the church, which was all-powerful throughout this era, and thus demanded allegiance to Biblical truths, rather than everyday matters. It was in the Renaissance that artists were free to return to the material world. This change is reflected in the art that was produced during this period, which explore the beauty of the human body, as well as portraying the landscape in all its three dimensional splendor.

Art would undergo another change during the Enlightenment of the 19th century, when new forms of rationality and the physical world were depicted. Many of these new "discoveries" would later be shattered in the 20th century by the discoveries in physics by Albert Einstein as well as the discoveries in psychology by Sigmund Freud. At the same time, the technological development of the 20th century would leave its marks on the evolution of the art produced throughout that century. Particularly in the latter half of the 20th century, with an increase in global interaction, non-western cultures began to have a major impact on the development and production of art in the west.

One of the basic ways of creating an image is through drawing. Many different instruments can be used for drawing. Some of these include pen and ink, wax color pencils, crayons, charcoals, and markers. In today's technologically advanced era, digital tools that replicate the effects of traditional modes of drawing are often employed. Some of the primary techniques of drawing include hatching, line drawing, crosshatching, random hatching, scribbling, blending, and stippling. One who excels in drawing is often referred to as a draftsman.

Painting refers to the process of applying pigment that is suspended in a medium and a binding agent, such as a glue, to a surface, such as a canvas, piece of paper, or a wall. When used in art, painting combines with drawing, composition, and other aesthetic means in order to elicit an image. Painting may be employed as a means of expressing spiritual messages - we see this on everything from pottery to the Sistine Chapel, which was created by Michelangelo. The essence of painting is color. While color is subjective, it is widely known for having subtle psychological effects that differ from culture to culture. In the western tradition, for example, black is associated with mourning. In other cultures, however, white is associated with mourning. A number of writers and artists in the west have written their own theories of color. But the use of language is never more than a generalization for when it comes to describing a color and its effects.

Throughout the last century, painting and other forms of visual art have been significantly expanded to include a broader range of materials. Collage has prevailed in painting; many painters now use materials other than paints in their work to give their paintings texture; some of these materials include wood, straw, cement, and sand. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, contemporary art moved away from its concern with the pictorial in favor of concept. While this has led some to proclaim that painting, as an art form is dead, in fact it continues to be a focal point for a range of artists all over the world.

When discussing art, it is also important to keep in mind art history - a sort of hybrid field that emerged to study the evolution of art over time. Art history has much in common with history, but also with literary theory and philosophy. Art criticism, a separate branch that deals with the aesthetics and quality of artwork, should also be noted here, although it should be kept in mind that it is separate and distinct from the discipline of art history.

The Humanities - History

The study of humanities in western civilization can be traced back to ancient Greece, where the humanities formed the basis of education for all citizens. In ancient Rome, there developed the notion of the seven liberal arts; these included grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, geometry, arithmetic, and astronomia. These subjects would also form the bulk of education throughout the medieval period.

In the Renaissance, a shift in educational values occurred. At this point, it was decided that the humanities were something that should be studied, as opposed to practiced. There was thus a shift away from traditional fields into such areas as history and literature. In the second half of the 20th century, postmodernism was born. This movement sought to open up the humanities towards a more egalitarian means of education - a mode that was believed to be fitting for a democratic society.

Today in the United States, many American colleges and universities subscribe to the idea of a broad liberal arts education. This means that all college students are typically required to learn the humanities in addition to their specialized areas of study. Some of the major proponents of liberal arts education in the United States include E.D. Hirsch and Mortimer J. Adler.

The Humanities were defined in the 1980 Rockefeller Commission report as follows:

Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human? The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world in which irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.

The humanities have nevertheless been the center of much controversy in recent decades, as many people view the humanities as "useless" in terms of the job market in the west, where most fields now require students to have several years of specialized study in a particular field. This is very different from the first half of the 20th century, where having a basic college degree was all that was needed in order to put one on the path of a professional career.

The humanities have doubtless undergone a change in today's digital era. As…

Sources Used in Document:


Austin, John. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. New York: Prometheus Books, 2000. Dworkin, Ronald. Law's Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Hart, H.L.A. The Concept of Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. Allen W. Wood, tr. New Haven:

Cite This Term Paper:

"Humanities In Western Civilization The" (2008, February 18) Retrieved January 22, 2019, from

"Humanities In Western Civilization The" 18 February 2008. Web.22 January. 2019. <>

"Humanities In Western Civilization The", 18 February 2008, Accessed.22 January. 2019,