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The Place of the Humanities


Rachel Miles


Dr. Nicholas Davey returned to the Roanoke College Campus Friday, September 12, for a second time to present his speech titled “Hermeneutics, Experience and Education.” Davey is a Professor of Philosophy from the University of Dundee in Scotland. The event took place at 4:15 in Pickle Lounge of the Colket Center and was the keynote lecture for the 2014 Annual Conference of the North American Society for Philosophical Hermeneutics. He lectured to a full room of students, faculty, and many guests on the importance of the subject in the college atmosphere as well as outside of it. The definition of the word hermeneutics is the branch of knowledge that refers to interpretation – whether it has to do with art, music or literature.

Davey informed those listening that the power of hermeneutics is in the way it causes people to seek out new perspectives and interpretations that can broaden their minds and understanding. He explained how this was key in a job market where having the right major is not always a sure means to getting a job. In such a congested job market, Davey showed those listening the importance of someone with the ability to use creative problem solving. He used the example of an art student who, when attending a lecture, did not merely take notes, but prodded and questioned the speaker in order to get a complete understanding of the topic.

Students of the humanities, and thus of hermeneutics, often take this very approach of seeking additional information even when no official conclusion can be guaranteed. Hermeneutics also relates back to the lecture that Davey gave the previous day about the purpose of the humanities; namely that they breed creativity in their students in a way that a study with definite answers and ends to research cannot.

When the topic of hermeneutics is fully integrated into an education, the focus changes from relaying information to opening the mind. The importance in this alteration is evident, and the audience of humanities scholars greatly approved of his message. The idea of opening the mind rather than just gathering information is key to Roanoke College’s focus on experiential learning and liberal arts, and it brings the idea of classical education to the time period of tomorrow.