A communiqué of the Maiden International Conference of the Faculties of Arts/Humanities Scholars Association of Nigerian Universities (FAHSANU), Held at the University of Calabar, Calabar, Nigeria April 9th – 13th, 2018.
The Conference proper started on Tuesday, 10th April, 2018 with the Keynote paper presented by Professor Jacob Olupona of Harvard University, USA. Professor Olupona’s presentation was deep in thought and wide in charting the concerns and challenges of the varied disciplines that make up the Humanities.
Professor Olupona began by highlighting the contribution of scholars of the Arts and Humanities in the world in spite of the marginalization of the discipline. He traced the origin of the discipline called Humanities to the classics and located the primary concern of the discipline as the study of human thoughts and cultural products, heritage, and all the unquantifiable qualities that qualify humanity and society. He, however, noted that as important as the Humanities are to the making of noble human society, the disciplines that comprise it are facing a plethora of challenges, which have led to their marginalization all over the world. The consequence of this marginalization is the steady and regrettable withdrawal of funding to the Humanities, the stereotyping and relegation of the discipline in the hierarchy of scholarship in the academy.
Professor Olupona attributed the source of this unfortunate circumstance to the general tendency of government and policy makers all over the world to adopt a utilitarian approach or what he called “the Utility criterion” to judge the Humanities. To confront this dominant thinking and to survive a world where utilitarianism and multi-disciplinarity is conditioning humanity, Professor Olupona, called for a re-invention of the humanities, while rejecting the ways in which other people and scholars define the discipline. To this extent hechallenged scholars in the Humanities to be more daring and creative. In this regard, he thinks the Humanities need to begin a conversation with sciences, technology, entrepreneurship and other disciplines so as to remain relevant in the new global order. He proffered practical example of the innovations in the United States and other western academy, where “Practice” and “Projects” have become end product of the Humanities. Remarkably, he gave the example of the compulsory inclusion of Ethics in Business and Finance studies in the United States after the global financial crisis epitomized in the Wall Street in 2008. With regard to Nigeria, Professor Olupona ended his paper by emphasizing the imperative of re-inventing the Humanities for the sake of re-engineering and building capacity for women who make the majority of the population but who are ironically the most vulnerable category of the society.
Professor Olupona’s Keynote was, indeed, a pace-setter for other presentations all through the conference. The opinions of the scholars from Theatre, Philosophy, Gender Studies, Literature, Language and Religion who made up the panel of discussants at the Round-table further indicted the myopia of the academy especially in Nigeria. Generally, the discussants at the Round-table made the point that the world, and Nigeria in particular, runs a big risk in attending to just disciplines like the sciences, technology and business that are quantitative and physical without emphasizing issues of morality, ethics, culture, heritage and inter-personal relationship which are the forte of the Humanities, and which a highly scientific and technologized world needs in order to humanize itself.
The opinions expressed by the discussants in the round-table were given amplitude by successive lead papers in the conference presented by Professor Francis Egbokhare, who in his paper calls for an “Alternative Modernity”, which only the Humanities can proffer to salvage a rapidly technologized, sterile and robotic world. Andrew Uduigwomen, through the logic of relativism challenged the Nigerian society to draw from ethics in order to condition what he thinks are negative cultural productions that are dehumanising the world. In his Presentation, like that of Professor Francis Bisong of Geography, the NUC Executive Secretary challenged scholars in the Humanities to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to their scholarship in order to remain relevant in the world. In a presentation that connects with Olupona’s Keynote and Professors Egbokhare’s and Imelda Udoh’s lead papers, Professor GMT Emezue, shows how the new approach to teaching and learning the Humanities called Digital Humanities is indispensable in re-inventing curricula, methodology, teaching and learning the humanities, and even the world view of students and citizens at large. For her, digital Humanities would not only re-enforce the teaching and learning of Humanities courses, which are highly threatened but would make them more interactive and interesting. The second day of the conference ended with an AGM where fundamental decisions were taken and elections were held.
The Third day of the conference, 12th April witnessed concurrent sessions, of fourteen panels each consisting of conferees from over twenty-five participating universities/institutions within and outside Nigeria.