The Absurdity of an Oxford Humanities Degree VERSA

I am a second year philosophy and theology undergraduate. Consider the following scenario, through which I have been countless times since entering this university, and which some of you may well be familiar with.

Non-Oxford university student: “Oh wow, you go to Oxford! I bet you have loads of work to do every day! haha.”

Me: *flash back to 8 weeks of no lectures, 1.5 contact hours a week and a schedule painfully void of academic purpose* “You’d be surprised…”

A debate that has always annoyed me is the classic science vs humanities student: who works harder? At least for my degree, hands down, every day of the week, beyond every morsel of doubt the humanity student will objectively lose this argument every single time.

“but mum it’s my passion!”

When I first came to this university I was a finely honed machine who had been ruthlessly conditioned by years of strict schooling to juggle 6 hours of lessons a day with various extracurricular commitments and a wholesome social life. Imagine my shock upon entering this fine institution when I realised that my life would now consist of 3 hours of lectures A WEEK, and, at most, 2 hours of tutorials. Imagine my further shock when I heard all of the second years claiming that ‘no one even goes to these lectures’. I soon learned why. What I experienced (with several notable exceptions) was a series of some of the most uninspiring and rambling hours of my life – often not even remotely relevant to the essays that I had to write, and delivered by lecturers who would, for the most part, rather be doing literally anything else! So I, along with 80% of my course-mates, dropped lectures from my weekly routine too. I remember walking into the last general philosophy lecture of my second term, which I felt that I ought to attend, having slacked massively over the previous weeks. I entered an immaculately constructed lecture room, draped with the finest Victorian wall decorations and the portraits of men who had once been far more great and powerful than I could ever dream to be. The sorry sight that I was met with was, at most, 20 of the roughly 200 available seats filled. At least 5 of which were occupied by middle aged tourists from Eastern Asia, who had managed to sneak their way in and were relishing the opportunity by taking many, many photographs. You could not help but feel that those great and powerful men were looking down at us in distain.


So much free time! What a dream! Time to party! This is the natural first reaction of anyone who is so suddenly confronted with the reality of their own radical freedom, when the constraints of parents and schooling are removed. This is what I call the honeymoon period, and it sometimes even lasts the whole of the first term. What one soon realises, however, is that mankind is not meant to live in such a manner. Whilst such style of living, (which often consists of seldom getting up before noon and going out/ getting wrecked at basically every opportunity) is fun and perhaps even refreshing as a break from an otherwise fulfilling lifestyle, when it becomes the norm it very quickly leads to untold amounts of existential angst. The excitement at one’s own freedom is replaced by despair at the lack of purpose in life, which used to take the form primarily of academic achievement in school. Realisations are now made about the cage that one’s life was lived in previously. At virtually every stage of life before this, one purpose was provided from without, whether it be from school or family, and it was unquestioned. In light of the life currently being lived, however, the artificial nature of these social constructs can be seen, and your own foolishness for ever believing them becomes overwhelmingly evident. If these values have now been realised for the farce that they are, what is to stop me from questioning literally everything else? I’ll tell you what, absolutely nothing. There seems to be only one solution: session after session boiiiii.

So there you have it, the absurd situation that many an Oxford humanity student finds themselves in. Even though our scientist counter parts may fight a harder battle in terms of contact hours and tute sheets, the humanity student must learn to win the hardest war known to mankind: that against oneself. The humanity student must provide purpose and discipline from within and not fall into the trap of living the debaucherous lifestyle that is so easily, and on the face of it so temptingly available. Let this be a warning: this is the toughest part of Oxford humanities that you must prepare yourself for, and it’s the part that no one ever talks about before you get here.