Liberal Education

From the Editor

A window onto human experience, cultural analysis extends the ways we can know. The exploration of cultural studies in the Featured Topic section provides rich insights into this relative newcomer to the academic disciplines. For those of us who have been bemused, at best, or alarmed, at worst, by the much-publicized culture wars in recent years, these articles will prove enlightening as to the state of the questions then raised. They will not answer all those questions, and, indeed, may raise more, but they go a long way to sorting out not only questions about cultural studies but also about "the complexity of forces and processes" that are the object of learning. They piqued my interest in learning and testing the ideas.

Of particular interest is Paul Smith's assertion that "the process by which culture inflects the material world is actually the same process as that by which the material world shapes culture and our experience." I think, for example, of the cultural symbols and rituals that are part of the texture of ordinary life.

Among the rites of summer, the Olympic Games, viewed by peoples around the world, engage both participants and observers in rituals that express and, by Smith's account, effect shared meaning and values. In particular, I think about the national pride that displays itself in the colorful opening parade of the athletes and the global sense of time-honored tradition in the lighting of the Olympic fire. And for the athletes themselves (with other rituals specific to their sport), the quest for primacy is bolstered by national pride and global competition. For all of us who observe the games, the interactive process of ritual meaning, both expressive and effective, is similarly powerful.

Peter Stearns's argument for including cultural studies in the undergraduate curriculum and Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg and Danna Greenberg's mapping of cultural studies' theory, background, and practice in the curriculum enlighten and reward thoughtful reading about, as Paul Smith dubs cultural studies, this much-debated academic "upstart."

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