Some writers felt the Biblical focus was too narrow because it presumed that Christianity was both morally and intellectually superior to the European cultures it had replaced, including the “pagan” cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. So, these dissident writers decided to go back to the basics of education. Before taking an advanced university degree, the medieval student had to spend time with the studies of humanity—in the university department called the faculty of arts. The arts subjects–language, literature, history, and moral philosophy—prepared students for the specialized study of theology, law, or medicine. Instruction was in Latin, and the arts subjects offered glimpses into societies very different from Europe in the Middle Ages.
Until the late nineteenth century, to study the humanities at the university mostly meant studying the classics: ancient Greek and Roman literature. In 1877, a British royal commission recommended that the study of English literature be offered to “women and the second- and third-rate men who become schoolmasters.” During the nineteenth century, universities such as Johns Hopkins made the study of literature in English and other modern languages a fundamental component of the modern university curriculum.
Today, most businesses—including medicine—consider the humanities a vital part of the university education. Humanistic study teaches skills, particularly in the area of critical thinking, that are vital to successful action in the practical sphere, pleasurable to the life of the mind, and valuable to the humane functioning of a society.