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Few human beings are truly alone. Most of us are embedded from birth in families, communities, institutions, tribes or clans whose expectations and values help to shape our individual expectations and values throughout life. From these groups we may learn how to think about who we are and where we belong. Or we may discover how we do not fit into certain molds and learn to resist them. The influences on us may be harmonious or contradictory. They may attach our sense of self—or identity—to a particular geographical place or instead urge us to wander. Together such influences may link individual identities to a distinct culture, complete with narratives about origins and a set of practices to live by. Or they may shape identities that are flexible and adaptable to multiple cultural arrangements.
Humanists engage in the study and exploration of these forces and individual interpretations of them as a key element in figuring out how humans make meaning of their existence. Humanists also study varied cultural systems and the concept of culture, recognizing that the idea of cultural stability may mask the inevitability of change.
From the study of the philosophical and spiritual expression of the self in the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies to the exploration of identities in the world in programs ranging from the School of Social Transformation to the Department of English, from the Center for Political Thought and Leadership to the Hispanic Research Center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, many of our programs encourage students—and the rest of our world—to think and reflect deeply upon our individual purpose in the world.