This paper is an in-depth examination of the contemporary study of the humanities in Western society. Unlike most of the other major academic disciplines, the humanities as they are taught and studied at present constitute a relatively recent area of examination. They have also been strongly criticized for what traditionally has been an almost exclusive emphasis on the works of white, European males. This paper seeks to define the scope and goals of the discipline, examine its evolution and future, and consider some of the ways in which a humanities-based perspective is essential to every human life. Because the humanities require historical distance to apply analysis and understanding, they can be particularly useful in clarifying cultural commonalities. The humanities as a discipline focus on the individual human being and the learned behavior that constitutes human culture. This study is therefore complex, controversial, and open to a wide range of interpretations. It is also necessary for cultural progress and individual vitality.
The first problem with any examination of the humanities rests in defining the discipline itself. Howard Mumford Jones describes "those vast areas of human knowledge that lie outside the physical, natural, and mathematical sciences, the field we vaguely call the humanities" (v). He contends that "the three great categories of knowledge" are the sciences (including mathematics), the social sciences, and the humanities (20), making "the humanities" a kind of catch-all category for all areas of knowledge that are not in some way scientific. Lamm acknowledges the interdisciplinary nature of the field, and, although his text emphasizes the study of the arts of individual cultures, he places these studies within the cultural and historical context from which each work arose.
Nevertheless, finding an exact definition is difficult. Jones attempts to outline the scope of the problem: