What is Liberal Studies?

By Moksha Agarwal 2021-07-10

As a student at the cusp of graduation, I had applied for a P.G. Diploma in Liberal Studies. My father was perplexed. But what is it, what kind of job would you do? He didn’t understand (still doesn’t) what liberal studies meant. To be honest, neither did I.

I became a Young India Fellow, which is a fancier name for my degree, in 2019. What I learned by taking twenty courses, spread across twelve months, is this: 

                                                                                                                           Liberal Studies is not a system of education, it is a way of life.

Now, before you spew disagreement, I’d like to state that liberal studies, most definitely, is a system of education. In the sense that it is an approach toward learning where students are exposed to multiple disciplines in the humanities, arts, and the natural and social sciences. Yet it is so much more.

The first of my eight fellowship terms was largely unsettling. My day began with a class on Heritage, afternoons were spent sipping coffee during a Leadership course, followed by spicy samosas before Art Appreciation; and when the stars ultimately shrouded the night sky, I’d find myself cracking walnuts, trying to comprehend a thirty-page paper on why mathematics is the language of the universe.

Term after term I was presented with intriguing, yet supposedly disparate subjects. It took me about four months to realize that while processing a barrage of seemingly ‘random’ information, my mind was waking up to a latent ability—the art of critical thinking and drawing cross-disciplinary connections. My Health Systems class was not just about the state of health infrastructure but also about the social and political history of the nation. Learning about advancements in artificial intelligence opened the age-old debate on mind-body duality.

Do I remember everything I learned in each one of my courses? Not really. I only remember the bits that I enjoyed the most. But I did develop the ability to ask questions and to look for answers. To be patient when the solutions don’t present themselves immediately. To appreciate the complexity of our world. To understand that its complexity cannot be unraveled by pulling one single string. To realize that liberal studies is more than studying a bunch of different subjects, it is a method of thinking, a way of being, that will transcend your college years. It will seep into your work, family, and civic life, bringing richness to your ideas, relationships, and involvement with your community.

To learn more about how liberal arts has driven progress with examples from the world of business, politics and fashion, watch last week’s episode of Athena Speaks.
Athena Speaks - Episode 3: The Magic of Liberal Arts