Westmont Magazine The Importance of the Humanities in Liberal Arts Education

Enrico Manlapig speaking

Enrico Manlapig, associate professor of economics and business, went to college in Australia, which lacks LIBERAL ARTS colleges. He studied commerce and economics for five years before earning his degree. “It was all economics all the time,” he says. “It’s a great training for a particular kind of work, but it left me with massive holes in my knowledge as a human being and a citizen. For example, I don’t understand what a cell is, as I’ve never taken a biology class. I have only a high-school level understanding of world conflicts throughout the centuries, because that’s the last time I studied history.”

He cites his own education when talking about the value of a LIBERAL ARTS education. “I completed 120 units of economics classes,” he says. “But I don’t always feel well educated. Westmont students take only about a third of their classes in their major. Economics and business shouldn’t dominate their education. They should study disciplines such as philosophy, literature and history to become whole and well-balanced people.”

Manlapig’s view of the LIBERAL ARTS has evolved since his undergraduate days. He earned his doctorate in economics at Columbia University. “Columbia has a narrow view of the LIBERAL ARTS focused on specific fields of study,” he says. “They consider business, education, medicine and journalism to be outside the LIBERAL ARTS, and have distinct schools for graduate training in these areas.” That approach formed his understanding of the LIBERAL ARTS for years.

Before coming to Westmont, Manlapig taught at Hope College, which also offers a LIBERAL ARTS curriculum. Through his faculty experiences, he now believes that many fields like business are appropriate within a LIBERAL ARTS education, as long as they maintain a connection to disciplines in the humanities such as history, philosophy and literature. “We need to be sensitive and connected to these subjects as the core of the LIBERAL ARTS,” he says.

The LIBERAL ARTS change the attitudes Manlapig and his fellow economics and business professors bring to the classroom. The department offers a variety of classes, but intentionally connects subjects like entrepreneurship, analytics and accounting to writing, literature, ethics and history. “We often hear from students who would like to separate economics and business into separate programs. While I understand the attraction, I think it would make it more difficult for us to maintain the emphasis on the humanities and the attitudes at the core of the LIBERAL ARTS.

“One of the purposes of the humanities is the exploration and celebration of what it means to be human,” he says. “For Christians, the human experience is inseparable from our identity as images bearers of God. A Christian liberal education ought to prioritize and champion the humanities while leaning into our faith identity. I feel strongly that this is what a liberal education is about.”