The Difference between Liberal Arts and the Humanities

What's the difference between liberal arts and the humanities?

Flickr user Anders Sandberg

There is a bit of confusion when it comes to these two–Liberal Arts and the Humanities. Sometimes they are used interchangeably, but that has led to misunderstanding and poor representation of what they are. So we’re going to break down the differences between these two types of study.

First off, the Humanities are a part of Liberal Arts–like a subsection. Think back to geometry class for a moment: all squares are technically rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. All Humanities are part of Liberal Arts, but not all Liberal Arts subjects are in the Humanities.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the bigger of the two categories. Liberal Arts can be broken down into four categories: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and mathematics. Yep, that’s right–science and math! Why? Because Liberal Arts is overarching the study of the human–including humanity’s history, the physical world we live in, and the natural laws of science we’re bound by. It is a program that will teach the student critical thinking and give them a well-rounded, broader education rather than a specific technical skill.

Liberal Arts classes can include:

  • Biology
  • Literary Studies
  • World History
  • Psychology
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Anthropology

Let’s switch gears and talk about Humanities. We’ve already established that it’s a subcategory of Liberal Arts, but we’ll still break it down for you further. It is the study of the human condition–the “what makes us human” if you will.

This includes subjects like:

  • Literature
  • History
  • Theology
  • Music
  • Art
  • Speech
  • Theater
  • Journalism
  • Foreign languages
  • Film
  • Communication.

When people hear “Liberal Arts” that is what they mistakenly think of. Many write off Liberal Arts as “impractical” or “fanciful” just because they don’t see these subjects as particularly useful in the working world.

However, the Humanities teach two vital things that are oftentimes missing from more technical schools of study: critical thinking and communication. Those studying within the Humanities learn to engage with the material, think about it from a multitude of angles, problem solve creatively, and adapt to different situations. These are highly sought-after skills in the business world.

So there you have it, the difference between Liberal Arts and the Humanities. Next time someone mixes the two up, you can teach them the truth.

Interested in either the Liberal Arts or Humanities? Check out the colleges who offer relevant programs that are right for you with College Raptor’s match tool.

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