Cultural Diversity and Dynamism in Demand, in Dilemma, and in the Mend: Modernity and Multiculturalism in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei

By Chen, Shudong | East-West Connections, Annual 2006 | Go to article overview

Cultural Diversity and Dynamism in Demand, in Dilemma, and in the Mend: Modernity and Multiculturalism in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei


Chen, Shudong, East-West Connections


Why do I teach humanities? Does it mean helping students to see the broadest possible picture of humanity or making them sensitive to cultural phenomena that reflect subtle but vital differences beneath well-observed similarities and essential but overlooked similarities behind noticeable differences? Does it mean teaching students to be critical and creative thinkers to enable them to detect and discover the richest possible connection of humanity where least expected or to find the road not taken not only beyond but also within the road well trodden? Does it also mean to teach students how to think locally as well as globally--between, beyond, beneath and behind any specific local phenomenon? Does it mean cultivating all-rounded humans, not merely manufacturing specialized "utensils" (Confucius) or breeding a "specially trained dog," as Einstein so emphasizes? If so, none would be possible, as Einstein would also emphasize, without the crucial "personal contact with those who teach" humanities. (2) It means humanities must be taught through instructor's crucial personal contact, using his/her professional and personal strengths, to enhance, enrich, and enliven students' critical and creative perception, judgment, and understanding not only in terms of their own cultural traditions but also cross-culturally.

To make this mission possible, it is crucial that those who teach humanities themselves must be further enriched and enlivened and enlightened especially nowadays in this increasingly incorporated and but also fragmented small world of ours amid the irreversible trend of globalization. This is why I consider this trip enormously helpful with regard to our mission of teaching about humanity through teaching humanities or making our divided and diversified world well connected in and through our classrooms. In each section below, I outline the rationale and measures of implementation regarding how to transform my professional and personal experiences from the trip in ways applicable to the humanities courses I teach.

This paper includes the following sections. (1) Statement of purpose. (2) Measures of implementation. (3) The concept of modernity as overarching ideology of globalization. (4) Multiculturalism as response to modernity. (5) Islam as response to crises both globally and domestically for cultural, national, and identity. (6) American history and literature as serendipitous points of reference. (7) China, Japan, Korean as additional personal and professional references. (8) Reasonable optimism and pessimism in assessment. (9) Themes for study. (10) Mechanism and types of multiculturalism. (11) General questions and (12) Specific questions, both for brainstorming and overall study guides.

(1) Statement of Purpose: With multiculturalism as the focal and organizing theme and Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei as the basic examples, the curriculum project intends to paint a broadest picture of humanity as it has been so enriched and enlivened worldwide in the forms of human responses to modernity and the role of literature as the key measurement and embodiment of human development. The project will therefore examine the very nature of multiculturalism in relation to modernity, as it has been the case in these three countries within the context of world humanities regarding its necessity, possibility and mechanism for success as well as its actual and potential problems beyond, beneath, and behind its observed and observable instances of success.

(2) Implementation: The project, so defined in the above statement and detailed in the following rationale, will be, first and foremost, implemented "wholesale" as a new course on Southeastern Asia once considered acceptable in a community college setting through a regular new course proposal and examination procedure. Otherwise or meanwhile, it will be be incorporated into three existing courses that I have been teaching. For my Introduction to Humanities, a popular genre-based course on art (visual, audio, and performing) and literature, I will use probably 10% or 20% of course time to explore the materials from the trip. …

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