Why the Liberal Arts Matter

Asbury University’s mission is to equip men and women to engage culture and advance the cause of Christ in the world, and the way we do that is through a liberal arts education. But what does that mean? What are the “liberal arts,” and what do they look like at a Christian university?

Asbury University's administration building
Asbury University's administration building
What is a “liberal arts” education?


The liberal arts have been around since the ancient Greeks. Initially, they were grammar, rhetoric and logic — those fields of study deemed to be essential to distinguish a free (or liberated) person from a slave. By medieval times, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy were added to the list. Today, these subjects — language, science, mathematics, religion and philosophy — still make up the core of a liberal arts education.

At Asbury, however, the study of humanity, its culture and history is inseparable from Biblical and theological studies. The Bible and religious thought been an essential component of Asbury’s curriculum from its founding in 1890. John Wesley Hughes, an evangelist and pastor who founded the University, wrote, “I believed then, as I do now, that a rounded and complete education involved a genuine Christian experience. To educate the body to the neglect of the mind and the soul makes a man beastly. To educate the mind to the neglect of body and soul leads to dead intellectualism. To educate the soul to the neglect of mind and body results in fanaticism.”

How do we accomplish this?
Asbury requires each undergraduate to complete courses oriented toward achieving five different competencies:

  • Integrating Christian Faith and Culture (Bible, Theology, Ethics and Philosophy)
  • Discovering Human Thought and Creative Expression (Art, Music, English, Communication)
  • Engaging Society and Global Responsibility (History, Social Sciences, World Languages)
  • Achieving Qualitative and Critical Literacy (Mathematics, Computer Science)
  • Searching the Natural World and the Environment (Natural Sciences, Physical Education)

This core curriculum ensures that each student receives a broad, comprehensive education in subjects that are universally applicable to any career or educational trajectory.

Why is it important?
Simply put, Asbury University believes that accomplishing the mission of the University — equipping men and women to engage culture and advance the cause of Christ in the world — requires the sort of critical-thinking, truth-seeking, broad-ranging perspective embodied in a liberal arts education. Over and over, Asbury graduates have encountered situations in professional and educational settings in which it was their ability to communicate clearly and evaluate an idea’s worth (and not only its technological feasibility) that set them apart from their peers.

The importance of the liberal arts has even been incorporated into Asbury’s orientation week for new students through a series of discussion sessions called “Engage 2013: Why ask ‘Why?”. In the midst of settling into their dorm rooms and confirming their class schedules, new students take a few hours each day of orientation to break into small groups to ask challenging questions and explore topics such as the relationship between vocation and work, wisdom and information, society and social responsibility.

Faculty members facilitate the small groups sessions, giving students not only the opportunity to meet future professors but also to hear first-hand how the study of the humanities has impacted their lives and careers. Dr. David Coulliette, a professor in the Math Department, worked in research and development capacities in the U.S. Navy and Air Force. He found that the ability to analyze political theory and understand human nature was just as essential in his work as solid computational skills.

“God’s truth is revealed to us in so many ways,” he said. “We need to have a broad background to better recognize His truth when we see it.”

And so at Asbury University, the slogan “Academic Excellence & Spiritual Vitality” truly becomes a way of life — and a place where classical intellectual qualities that distinguish free people join with the Spirit-filled, Wesleyan understanding of Christian faith to create a liberal arts university like no other.

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