Message from the dean

Chris Goto-Jones
Dr. Chris Goto-Jones, Dean of Humanities

Greetings, and welcome to the Faculty of Humanities,

I think we can probably all agree that the most important work of wisdom of the last decade was Kung Fu Panda. Of course, I’m talking about the first movie (2008), not the third one (2016), and certainly not the second one (2011). For me, the genius of Kung Fu Panda resides not only in its revolutionary blend of martial arts and cute animals, but also in the way that it encourages us to reflect on our liberty. In the end, it turns out that our freedom is not only (but also) dependent on our technical competencies (such as the martial arts), but that it’s really about working out who we are and how we want to be in the world: there is no secret ingredient, there’s only you.

Po, the Kung Fu Panda himself, struggles through arduous training in pursuit of an image of the ideal martial arts master – the fabled Dragon Warrior. The ‘Big Fat Panda’ seems an unlikely candidate for this elevated role. People point and laugh at him. A lot. But his struggle transforms him in all kinds of ways. Yes, it eventually makes him into a master, but not into the imaginary master that he’d invented in his mind or accepted as given from society. Indeed, one of the magical results of The Education of Po is that he finds his own way to be a master, through attention and awareness and discipline.

In the final analysis, though, it is his compassion (for others but also for himself) that enables him to accept diversity and difference (including his own), to navigate his way through dangers and difficulties, and to draw lines where they need to be drawn. Po may be flabby, but his sense of justice is keen, authentic, and non-judgemental.

Po’s pursuit of himself emerges as a model for a Liberal Arts education. You can and should expect to be challenged and tested during your time in the Faculty of Humanities in Victoria. Our goal is not to spoon-feed you with data or dumplings, but rather to encourage you to work out what such things mean, what they might signify, and how they impact on you and others.

The Humanities are concerned with asking questions – often large, troubling, fundamental questions – about what it means to be human in the world. More than that, though, the Humanities are driven by critique and emancipation – we struggle to free ourselves from conventions and received knowledge by understanding them thoroughly, so that we can forge ourselves and our societies into the best forms possible. We take responsibility for ourselves, for our thoughts and our actions. The Humanities are about transformation; they are concerned with making the world a better place. The Humanities are foundational, critical, and radical all at once.

In this spirit, I’d like to pause to reflect on Kung Fu Panda once again (sorry!). Despite all the very positive aspects of this modern classic, we should also be aware of some of the ideological dilemmas in which it participates. In particular, no reading of Kung Fu Panda would be complete or responsible without considering its relationship with Orientalism – the (mis)representation of the ‘Orient’ as a romantic site of mystery, wonder, and martial arts magic, in contrast with an apparently mundane, mechanical, modernized ‘West.’

So, here at UVic, the Humanities include a great range of fields, topics, and themes. We can explore diversity and commonality, histories and futurities, languages and cultures, philosophy and religions, classics of the ancient and modern worlds, literature and movies and videogames and … and … ourselves (whosoever we are) and others (whosoever they turn out to be).

Yes, whatever route you choose to take through our Faculty, you’ll also gain skills and techniques and technologies that will set you up for all kinds of different careers. You will gain superior skills in critical thinking, analytic reading, precise writing, persuasive presentation, data-analysis, problem-solving etc. I can’t promise Kung Fu, but I’m sure you’ll find it on campus if you look! Perhaps even more important, though, your journey here should be about making some discoveries about yourself and what it might mean for you to be the Dragon Warrior. I can’t predict what your future will hold, but I hope we can help to ensure that you will forge it for yourself.

Dr. Chris Goto-Jones, Dean of Humanities