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The Liberal Arts

Transylvania University prides itself on its long tradition of liberal arts education, but what does “liberal arts” mean? Warm day

Let’s dispel one myth right at the beginning. The “liberal” in liberal arts has nothing to do with left-wing politics. As a matter of fact, since the liberal arts have a 2,500-year-old pedigree going back to classical Athens, teaching these ancient ideals could be considered conservative, even reactionary.

The word “liberal” comes from the Latin liberare, meaning “to free.” A better term, then, could be “liberating arts,” because that is what a liberal arts curriculum aims to do: liberate students from ignorance, preconceptions, and limitations — self-imposed or otherwise.

The “arts” aren’t just limited to subjects like sculpture, dance, or drama, either. Instead, they refer to all human pursuits worthy of intensive study and reflection, from chemistry to history to music.

By embracing all of human knowledge, the liberal arts clear the way for pioneering. Who says that a biology major can’t also study religion, or that environmental studies and Spanish have nothing to do with one another? The liberal arts enable you to draw connections between disparate fields of study, examine ideas and concepts, and challenge underlying assumptions.

Questioning everything expands your intellectual capacity. Who am I? What does it mean to be human? What can humans accomplish? What is freedom? What is success? A liberal arts education is defined by the questions, not the answers. And once you question everything, you’ll find that you can accomplish anything.

Learn more about the liberal arts by reading about Twenty-first Century Liberal Education: A Contested Concept, a seminar hosted by Transylvania University.

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