I met Shermon O. Cruz through my capacity as the consulting editor for the Journal of Futures Studies. He wrote an excellent article on the futures of liberal arts, something of keen interest to me, my B.A. was in comparative literature. I’ve been horrified in Australia over the past decade to see one liberal arts program after another slashed because it couldn’t compete financially with engineering/business/technical programs bloated by full fee paying students from abroad. An article showing a resurgence in liberal arts, not only in the West, but around the world, was certainly worth taking notice of. Shermon also challenged the hegemony and dominance of the Western framework for liberal arts, showing that it indeed has diverse civilizational manifestations. Here is the abstract for his article:

This paper peers into the futures of liberal arts and articulates numerous contexts engaged in shaping the futures of liberal arts. It sought to answer the following questions: Is liberal arts likely to face extinction? Are there other liberal arts contexts other than the Western liberal arts model? Is there such a thing as a non-Western framework of liberal arts education? And can it be renewed, reinterpreted, redefined or translated in the context of the other, beyond the Western tradition? If so, what are its nuances, constraints, intricacies, hopes, and futures? What are the futures of non- Western and Western liberal arts models?

Debates and discussions about the future of liberal arts have been going on mainly in the net and its future is being seen in the way that its Western proponents want it to be – a liberal arts that is useful in the workplace and promotes individualism and freedom of choice as well. Non-Western academics, however, see different patterns and values as liberal arts now becomes culture bound. Additionally, they insist that it must go beyond the current view and accentuate liberal arts that cultivate one’s identity and nurtures skills for life.

Last year when I attended the mini WFSF conference in Penang, Malaysia, I was fortunate to catch up with him and we had many good discussions. I was able to catch him for a video session as well and just finished editing it:

Shermon O. Cruz and the Center for Engaged Foresight from Jose Ramos on Vimeo.

Shermon is professor of political science and public administration at Northwestern University and Northern Christian College in the Philippines and served as a policy consultant and chaired several technical working groups in the formulation of key legislations in environment, investment, poverty reduction and teacher empowerment at the local government level. He also served as a policy and project consultant in the areas of environment, community development and agriculture in various non-government and government projects. Prior to joining the government, he was global secretary for the Volunteers for Social Services, A UN NGO based in India and is currently a member of the International Advisory Board of the PROUT Research Institute of Venezuela.

The three important themes that come out for me in his vision for futures studies are:

  • the need to indigenize Futures Studies toward the needs and characteristics of the Philippines. Indigenization of futures studies / research is an emerging theme I’m tracking from a variety of advocates.
  • compassion for communities and people being overwhelmed by economic globalization, and the need to envision and enact alternative futures that respond to the needs of the majority world.
  • the importance of creating new narratives for who we are and for where we are going, which are both indigenous (e.g. Philippines) and which address deep structures of colonization / neo-colonization

Over the past few months Shermon has hatched plans to create a Center for Engaged Foresight. CEF aims to promote futures studies in the Philippines and South East Asia and pioneer new narrative development practices for the region.  I’ve been supporting Shermon with some basics, and he has already pulled together an impressive advisory board. CEF was:

Established to advance a spectrum of futures strategies and methodologies, the CEF aims to intensify the aptitude of persons, systems and society’s to respond to the challenges of the 21st century. The CEF believes that by engaging and exposing individuals and collectivities to engaged foresight, the present can be reinterpreted and the future reinvented. The CEF posits that when more time and effort is invested into understanding and conceptualizing alternative and transformative futures, the wealthier and healthier our options and collective futures will be.

Shermon and I invite all those interested in joining the circle of  friends of CEF make contact.

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