The study of humanities at top-ranked universities has been overrun by identity politics, sparking accusations that academics pushing ideological projects are fuelling division within the community.
Themes of class, race and gender dominate history, literature, politics and social studies courses at the expense of traditional disciplinary content, according to an audit of Bachelor of Arts subjects that 10 universities offered last year.
Conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs, the audit found that 572 subjects, or 44 per cent of the 1181 subjects analysed, were concerned with identity politics, while a further 380 subjects featured critical race theory — a US-born framework for studying race and power responsible for coining the concepts “white privilege” and “structural racism”.
About 25 per cent of subjects were focused specifically on gender issues.
In contrast, a mere quarter of English literature subjects involved the study of great works comprising the Western canon, while just 23 per cent of history subjects dealt with the history of Western civilisation ranging from Ancient Greece to the modern world.
In the political sciences, 10 per cent of subjects offered taught students about the history of ideas and political thought. Freedom, a key tenet of the study of social sciences, was also in just 10 per cent of the 524 possible subjects.
IPA director Bella d’Abrera, who carried out the review, said the findings could have devastating consequences, pointing to the impact of critical race theory on interracial tensions in the US, which has spilled over into violent rioting.
Dr d’Abrera said divisive ideologies were already having an impact on Australian society, evidenced by the perennial controversy around Australia Day and campaigns for the removal of public statues associated with European settlement.
An obsession with identity politics had divided Australians according to characteristics such as class, race and gender, she said, “preventing us from living together harmoniously as a cohesive society”.
“Academics have turned the humanities into a political project which seeks to replace the values and institutions of Western civilisation with a fatal combination of nihilism and anarchy,” Dr d’Abrera said.
“The concept of a shared humanity has been removed and replaced with a divisive ideology which pits us against each other on the basis of our immutable characteristics.”
The audit, on the back of Dr d’Abrera’s previous analysis of the study of history at the nation’s tertiary institutions, follows a recent move by the federal government to raise fees for humanities courses in a bid to steer young people to study nursing, mathematics, science and engineering where there are greater employment opportunities.
Dr d’Abrera said the humanities had become “homogenised” to the extent that it was “almost impossible to differentiate between them”.
“There is no discernible difference, for example, between sociology and English literature or philosophy and sociology,” she said.
“No matter the subject, the same worldview, which is that of identity politics and critical race theory, is repeated throughout all disciplines.”
Subjects captured in the audit included Macquarie University’s history subject “Global History of Sport”, where students examine the meaning of sport across “class, racial, gender, and ethnic groups”, including “the rise of female, LGBT, and transgender athletes”.
At the University of Melbourne, philosophy students taking “Race and Gender: Philosophical Issues” are asked to consider if race and gender are “biological” or “socially constructed” categories.
Even the study of children’s literature is framed through an ideological lens, with one course
Simon Haines, chief executive of the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, which is sponsoring great books-style courses at several universities, said it was concerning if students were being offered little choice but to study history, literature and other humanities disciplines “exclusively or primarily through a limited number of prisms, such as race, class and sexuality”.
“This is not because great works are not affected by such issues, but because they, like human life itself, are about so much more … Academics can do their students’ understanding of life and our past a tremendous disservice if they appear to evaluate the huge range of human experience using relatively crude ideological and conceptual templates, which can often seem to be as activist as they are scholarly,” Professor Haines said
Campion College president Paul Morrissey, whose private university offers liberal arts degrees, said infiltration of identity politics into the humanities was a worrying trend.
“Disciplines like literature and history should be studied for their own sake, using a wide range of interpretative lenses,” Dr Morrissey said.
“If everything about our past, especially our history and art, is reduced to a contemporary ideology of identity this will have a broader negative impact on our society. One of the problems with identity politics is that it has an innate suspicion and disdain of western history and culture writ large.”
Australian Catholic University senior research fellow Kevin Donnelly said academic freedom, rational debate and the search for wisdom and truth had disappeared from the university sector only to be replaced by “cultural-left ideology”.
“One of the greatest threats to liberty and freedom is the fact that neo-Marxist-inspired mind control and group think dominate our universities,” Dr Donnelly said.
“It‘s time universities were brought to account given the millions of dollars spent every year on subjects riven with destructive and nihilistic identity politics and cancel culture.”