The roots of the Faculty of Letters (Bungakubu) of Kyoto University can be traced back to the establishment of the College of Letters (Bunka Daigaku) of Kyoto Imperial University in 1906 (Meiji 39). In the more than one hundred years of its history, it has continued to provide education and be at the forefront of research activities. It was reorganized between 1995 and 1996 to place an even greater emphasis on the graduate school. It has continued in this form (with slight changes in the names of some of its departments) up to the present, and now consists of the Faculty of Letters for undergraduates and the Graduate School of Letters for graduate students. Currently the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters have six divisions —— Eastern Culture, Western Culture, Philosophy, History, Behavioral Studies, and Contemporary Culture, with 32 departments (only 31 for the Graduate School) within these divisions.
The research and education carried out in the Faculty and Graduate School of Letters is generally called humanities/humane studies. Humane studies concern the overall actions of human beings in the present and past. In fact, they cover a broad range of intellectual inquiry —— from the study of people’s activities in making a living and conducting their daily lives, to the study of their family activities, the study of their cultural and intellectual activities, the study of their political actions, and so on. To understand these kinds of activities and give them their proper significance, humane studies take as clues the vestiges of the past that human beings have left in things, texts, and artistic creation. In addition, fields investigating contemporary society (such as geography and sociology) and fields focusing on observation and experimentation, such as psychology and similar disciplines, are also included in the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters. In this way, the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters take an extremely wide and diverse approach to human beings and society in the scholarship done under their aegis. One can say that all of these fields, taken together, constitute humane studies.
Currently we find ourselves in the midst of globalization in all aspects of our lives. On a worldwide scale, globalization packs together economies, people’s daily lives, and information networks, and it strengthens the effects of relationships and mutual dependencies. It also gives rise to grave problems such as political and economic disparities, income inequalities, and environmental destruction. These types of problems must be investigated on a global scale, and thus we must inevitably think of the earth as one community. However, what makes up this world is, needless to say, countries, regions, and peoples that have a variety of languages, histories, cultures, and values. Because of this diversity, we will need correct judgment, fostered by humane studies and based on a deep understanding of the history and cultures of all countries, peoples, and regions, to realize peaceful co-existence and prosperity within the context of globalization. We believe ‘a multi-dimensional view of the humanities’ best expresses the role of research and education in the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters, a role in which we seek to contribute to the coexistence and the prosperity of the world’s peoples, nations, and regions through studies in various specialized fields.
The Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters are composed of more than 30 departments of research and education. Even after students have joined their respective departments, they can take lectures and courses from other departments, and we have been developing an innovative curriculum in which students can learn widely through inter-disciplinary studies. Without confining themselves narrowly to just one specialty, students broaden their views and look at neighboring disciplines. In doing so, they expand the intellectual foundations by which they can contribute to global peace, and this expansion is precisely the major challenge that contemporary humane studies are being called upon to meet. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, we have been obliged to revise our view of the past and present of the Japanese state and society, taking into account scientific technologies and environmental problems. We now face directly the urgent problem of creating a concept of a sustainable future society on a global scale. We can say that the role the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters should carry out in education and research is then all the more important for the peaceful co-existence of human beings based on dialogue and mutual understanding.
Naturally teachers in the Faculty and Graduate School of Letters also instruct students as to the essential reading to do and the standard methods to follow in studying in a given specialty. Our teachers also discuss the results of specialized research in their lectures. However, what and how the students learn and what kind of intellectual experiences they have, will depend on the motivation, enthusiasm, concerns and desires of the students themselves. And, if you as a student knock on one of the doors of our faculty leading to a specialized field, you will find a limitless, broad, and beautiful world waiting inside. Once inside, no one will tell you how you should behave or which direction you should go. Those are things that will be left to the judgment and thought of all of you as students. In that sense, please understand that what will be especially required of you in the Faculty and the Graduate School of Letters is ‘Self-Study and Self-Learning’. So why not muster the courage and come and knock at our door?