NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 27

Social sciences as important as sciences

During the past several decades, the importance of education in the fields of medical, engineering and technology has been stressed to the extent that those studying social sciences and humanities sometimes feel as if they were superfluous.

However, educationists think the other way round. Prof. Dr. Sohail H. Naqvi, former executive director of the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and presently the rector of the University of Central Asia, believes that promotion of social sciences at institutions of higher education is vital for bringing about good governance, the rule of law, peace and tolerance in society. In a talk with Cutting Edge, he says that he had been committed to developing social sciences and a number of practical steps had been taken in this regard. Subjects related to social sciences had been included as an integral part of the BS four-year programme when he was working as executive director of the HEC, he said, emphasising the importance of close linkages between campuses and communities.

Prof. Dr. Mohammad Nizamuddin, Pro-Rector at Superior University Lahore, completely agrees with the assertions of Dr. Naqvi. “The study of human sciences attempts to expand and enlighten the human being’s knowledge of their existence, their interrelationship with other species and systems, and the development of artefacts to perpetuate human expression and thought,” he says. “It is, in fact, the study of the human phenomenon.”

Dr. Nizamuddin told Cutting Edge that a countrywide consultation process with stakeholders had been launched to improve the state of social sciences in the country. He says that all possible efforts have been made for the provision of equitable, accessible and quality higher education in Pakistan. The educationist also calls upon civil society representatives to work closely with the Higher Education Commission to secure the goal.

Explaining social sciences, Zafarullah Khan, former executive director at the Centre for Civic Education, Islamabad, said that human science – also known as humanistic social science, moral science and human sciences – refers to the investigation of human life and activities through a phenomenological methodology that acknowledges the validity of both sensory and psychological experience. It includes but is not necessarily limited to humanistic modes of inquiry within fields of social sciences and humanities, including history, sociology, anthropology, and economics. Its use of an empirical methodology that encompasses psychological experience contrasts with the purely positivistic approach typical of natural sciences which exclude all methods not based solely on sensory observations. Thus, the term is often used to distinguish not only the content of a field of study from those of natural sciences, but also its methodology.

Referring to the latest developments, Zafarullah Khan said that human science has been used to refer to “a philosophy and approach to science that seeks to understand human experience in deeply subjective, personal, historical, contextual, cross-cultural, political, and spiritual terms. Human science is the science of qualities rather than of quantities and closes the subject-object split in science.

“In particular, it addresses the ways in which self-reflection, art, music, poetry, drama, language and imagery reveal the human condition. By being interpretive, reflective and appreciative, human science re-opens the conversation among science, art, and philosophy.”

Prof. Dr. Obaidullah, a senior teacher at the Institute of Education and Research (IER), University of the Punjab, Lahore, does not believe that social sciences are unimportant subjects. He says that social sciences have a wide scope. Social sciences comprise academic disciplines concerned with the study of the social life of human groups, animals and individuals including anthropology, archaeology, communication studies, cultural studies, demography, economics, human geography, history, linguistics, media studies, political science, psychology, social work and sociology.

He states that social sciences are sometimes criticised as being less scientific than natural sciences in that they are seen as being less rigorous or empirical in their methods. This claim has been made in the so-called science wars and is most commonly made when comparing social sciences to fields such as physics, chemistry or biology in which corroboration of the hypothesis is far more incisive with regard to data observed from specifically designed experiments. Social sciences can, thus, be deemed to be largely observational, in that explanations for cause-effect relationships are largely subjective. A limited degree of freedom is available in designing the factor setting for a particular observational study. Social scientists, however, argue against such claims by pointing to the use of a rich variety of scientific processes, mathematical proofs, and other methods in their professional literature.

Another major reference in our society is religion, as far as the study of social sciences is concerned. Deplorably, one area of knowledge that has deeply been neglected by Muslims in the past is the arena of social sciences. Except for the Islamisation of Knowledge project and the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, both initiatives launched by American Muslims in the early 1980s, there has been very little attempt by Muslims to indigenize social sciences.

Dr. M. A. Muqtedar Khan, an educationist based in the USA, writes in an article that social sciences, unlike Islamic sciences, which are essentially normative paradigms, have an empirical focus. Social sciences are more interested in understanding and describing the world as it is, rather than on postulating on how it ought to be. Without being prejudicial about what is more important, we must realise that while medieval Islamic sciences do provide a view of how the world ought to be a thousand years ago they do not equip our jurist-scholars with the training and tools necessary to understand the world as it is.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan believes that social scientists must not only be consulted but also encouraged to research, speak and write freely on the most important and pressing issues such as external and internal security, geopolitics, globalisation, inter-faith politics, economics, social and public policy and short- and long-term planning. Other issues that they can enrich are normative discussions based on empirical experience of institutions and polities that are best suited for our times. Social sciences are now very diverse, very complex and very advanced. They deal with issues uniformly and their findings impact policy at all levels. There is no denying the fact that the future belongs to those who have thought the deepest about it.