Houghton College is known for its strength in the humanities; its longstanding interests in missions, linguistics and the global church; and its emphasis on student travel and global engagement. This spring, the college is launching a new Center for Global Humanities to increase opportunities for Houghton students to deepen their understanding of cultures and languages other than their own.
According to Director Peter Meilaender, Professor of Political Science and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science, the Center’s goal is to engage a wide variety of cultural traditions in a spirit of respectful dialogue and shared interest, seeking mutual understanding where that is possible and respectful disagreement where it is not, and, in the process, coming to a fuller knowledge of our own tradition as well as others’. “We seek to ground students firmly in the Western tradition while also looking beyond it toward the globalized world in which they will live and work,” states Meilaender. “True to Houghton’s historic emphasis on global engagement, the Center for Global Humanities looks to carry this tradition forward for a new generation of students in the 21st century.”
Two new language learning offerings under the Center have already launched this fall and are open again to interested students for the upcoming spring semester: “Independent Language Learning”—in which students use online resources to study a range of languages not previously offered at the college, including Danish, Dutch, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, and Turkish—and the “Translation Workshop,” in which students explore the growing field of translation studies and workshop their own brief translations together in class.
“In the contemporary world, cross-cultural encounters have become practically routine experiences for many professionals,” says Meilaender. “In fact, a recent report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages finds that ‘9 out of 10 U.S. employers report a reliance on U.S.-based employees with language skills other than English.’”
“Houghton’s new Independent Language Learning and Translation Workshop classes offer students outstanding opportunities to develop and refine language skills and global competence at a time when these qualifications are increasingly sought by employers,” continues Meilaender. “These creative initiatives are remarkable for a school Houghton’s size and exemplify the college’s commitment to the intersection between global engagement and liberal arts study in the humanities.” In addition to offering a deeper dive into language study for Houghton students, the Center is also sponsoring a 1-credit “Around the World” book club for students next semester with plans to invite alumni and others to participate via online platforms.
As it expands its offerings, the Center will promote the truly global study of the humanities in the best traditions of Houghton College. Through the encounter with deep and profound pluralism, it provides an alternative to superficial cosmopolitanism, identity politics and nationalist populism. Instead, the Center will offer a more complex vision of God’s kingdom in all its richness, exploring, in Meilaender’s words, “the vastness and diversity of humanity, including the many different cultures of both West and non-West alike.”