Top 12 Free Online Classes for Humanities in 2021

Students observing and learning humanities will experience so many exciting things. From ancient and modern languages to the rise and fall of an empire and poetry of the Romantic era, humanities is undoubtedly very diverse and exciting. As part of the liberal arts education, courses in humanities investigate literature, human values, culture, and the past. Simultaneously, those who major in the study can also improve their writing, critical thinking, and research skills. 

Frequently Asked Questions
What is Humanities?
What Do You Study in Humanities?
What Benefits Do You Get from Studying Humanities?
The Skills You Gain from Humanities Courses

The Top 12 Free Online College Classes for Humanities in 2021
HOPE: Human Odyssey to Political Existentialism (Princeton University, via edX)
Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo) (The University of Pennsylvania, via Coursera)
Modern American Poetry (The University of Illinois at Urbana, via Coursera)
Moralities of Everyday Life (Yale University, via Coursera)
Introduction to Ethics: Moral Problems and the Good Life (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX)
The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future (Emory University, via Coursera)
Cooking for Busy Healthy People (Stanford University, via Coursera )
Paradox and Infinity (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX)
Think Again 1: How to Understand Arguments (Duke University, via Coursera)
Christianity Through Its Scriptures (Harvard University, via edX)
Journey of the Universe: Unfolding of Life (Yale University, via Coursera)
Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Ethics (University of California, Davis, via Coursera)

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Humanities?

Are you good at writing and speaking? Are you passionate about studying art and literature? Do you love to make connections between various subjects and disciplines? Do you feel a link when it comes to discovering knowledge about ideas and people?

Humanities involve the study of human conditions. It uses qualitative methods, primarily critical, speculative, or analytical, against the empirical approaches you learn from a natural science field. Furthermore, this field is also the study of different cultural aspects. It teaches you the common flaws in humankind and how these flaws can be improved. Cultural elements include knowledge, beliefs, speech, technologies, rules, ideals, and the arts. 

Focusing on these aspects, this field prescribes and examines the many types of behaviors deemed appropriate to someone in their efforts to reach the status of being a cultured human being. When you say a “cultured person,” it means they are well versed and refined in philosophy and languages. 

The humanities field also studies essential human sentiments, activities, opinions, and aspirations through the arts like sculpture, painting, music, architecture, dance, theater, literature, and cinema. 

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What Do You Study in Humanities?

In a humanities program, you are taught how to critically and creatively things, ask questions and reason. This field studies many aspects of society: past achievements and events, relationships, and human behaviors. When you enroll in the field, your program emphasizes literature, arts, languages, music, religion, philosophy, or a combination of these. Studying humanities aims to understand how you will learn and develop your reading, researching, writing, and abstract problem resolution skills. 

The usual areas of study in humanities include classical languages, modern languages, literature, linguistics, jurisprudence, history, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology, ethics, religion, history, criticism, and theory of the arts. 

In a Humanities program, some of the courses include:

  • Anthropology
  • Art History
  • Foreign Languages
  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Gerontology
  • Culture and Civilization
  • Human Health
  • Ethics
  • Interdisciplinary Art
  • Introduction to Creative Non-Fiction Writing
  • International Literature
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Music Appreciation
  • Religious Studies
  • Myths and Mythologies
  • Revolution of Humankind
  • Peace Studies
  • Sociology
  • Philosophy, Politics, and Social Theory
  • Women’s Studies
  • Political Theory
  • World History
  • Race and Gender
  • World Religions
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Autobiographical Reading and Writing
  • Theatre and Film
  • Critical Reasoning
  • Theories of Knowledge
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Visual Communication
  • Cultural Studies
  • World Archaeology
  • World Civilizations

What Benefits Do You Get from Studying Humanities?

By this time, you know that humanities can help you think creatively and critically and help you reason well so you can gain better insights into several topics and subjects. Ever since the Ancient Greeks, humanities have played crucial roles, and when you’re knowledgeable of this field, you can use it to explore poetry, culture, history, and the arts. 

But are humanities programs worth it? What benefits can you gain, should you finally decide to study this field?

  • Humanities hone your creative mind. When you study humanities, you will have a better interpretation of things. The way you interpret becomes more defined and more evident. For instance, by merely looking at a piece of art, ordinary minds will think of it a just a part of the painting. 

But if you have a background in humanities, you appreciate this piece of art for what it truly is. You can even see through its creation and interpret even the minor aspects of the painting that may sometimes have profound meanings. This field will help you find meaning and appreciate all the things you see in the world. Plus, you can even find inspiration from any random things that can help you get those creative juices flowing. 

  • Humanities help you improve your social skills. As mentioned above, humanities programs allow you to understand things and people better. The field will guide you in interpreting both the spoken and written languages much better, thus boosting your communication skills even more. 
  • Humanities will help you understand the role of science, technology, and medicine. By studying and understanding philosophy, literature, and history, you get to see how far science, technology, and medicine have improved and how crucial these things are in our daily lives. Thru this, you can see the kind of impact these three will have in the future and how they one with everything else as they continue to sustain every human life on all sorts of levels. Humanities also allow you to get into the field with a more robust and better understanding and a more open mind. 
  • Humanities help you become ‘international.’ Because you understand foreign languages and foreign cultures better once you secure a humanities course, it’s easier for you to find common ground with people from other backgrounds. Today, globalization has undeniably become more apparent. This equates to ethics slowly converging, and culture is becoming more and more similar. 
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The Skills You Gain from Humanities Courses

There is more to humanities courses than William Shakespeare’s plays and the French Revolution. You gain so many valuable skills from this field, like effectively communicating, independently working in teams, and seamlessly interpreting information. However, there are also critical transferable skills that have long been proven to aid humanities majors in securing a spot in the job market. 

Critical Thinking.  Humanities majors are known for their ability to think critically. Most of the coursework requires students to synthesize a material, analyze a handful of sources, and develop persuasive arguments that will hone them to embrace information with a critical eye. Students will also learn to recognize partiality and use logical reasoning. 

Analysis. History and literature majors study texts. On the other hand, English and foreign language students analyze rhetorical techniques and grammatical constructions. Having a humanities degree will help you develop solid analytical skills because you should think and build logical arguments out of your analyses. While natural and social sciences generally rely on quantitative resources, humanities courses use qualitative sources most of the time.

Creativity. Humanities programs promote creativity. The classes are designed to encourage students to think in complex ways and set aside their assumptions. When you can develop innovative solutions or propose new ways of communicating ideas, this can help professionals in all fields like the business sectors because they heavily rely on creative problem-solving methods.  

Writing Skills. As a humanities major, expect to write so many essays. Challenging, yes, but this will help you learn how to communicate clearly to your audience, create evidence-based arguments, and write persuasively. With research papers, you need to evaluate the content thoroughly, and you should be able to present it concisely and logically. 

Research Abilities. Writing and research will always go hand in hand. You learn to recognize relevant details, draw helpful information, and analyze sources. You will also present compelling and logical conclusions. When you major in humanities, expect to work on many sources, including analytical texts, primary sources, surveys, and images. 

The Top 12 Free Online College Classes for Humanities in 2021

Humanities is a vast field full of many potential areas of growth. Below are 12 of the most FREE popular programs offered.

HOPE: Human Odyssey to Political Existentialism

Princeton University, via edX

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This is an exciting course where you will start to scout for answers to some unsolvable questions. Why do we breathe? Why bleed? Why breed? What justifies creating, continuing, and even killing? Tel Aviv University and Princeton University have joined together and made a unique online course that discusses the human condition’s inner wisdom and politics. 

HOPE or Human Odyssey to Political Existentialism takes you on a journey into the human condition and its politics, leaning to existentialism for proper guidance. This free online course delves into several themes on both individual and political levels. Themes include identity and authenticity, human/nature, reflection, freedom, death and dread, happiness, meaning, truth and trust, morality and ethics, alienation and love, God and religion, and of course, hope. 

This interdisciplinary course is anchored in philosophy and political science and draws on sociology, history, economy, and psychology. HOPE will show you that art and science create an excellent synergy when studying our humanity. 

In this course, you will find:

  • Interviews, animated talks, and student discussions
  • Discoveries of significant concepts and figures (e.g., artists, thinkers, and politicians), both modern and ancient 
  • Different multimedia features that include other forms of art (prose and painting, painting, tv, cinema, and music)

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Self -paced
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Taught by Uriel Abulof
  • Created by two prominent universities: Princeton University and Tel Aviv University 
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Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo)

The University of Pennsylvania, via Coursera

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This course is the fact-paced introduction program to modern and contemporary US poetry, emphasizing experimental verses- from Emily Dickenson and Walt Whitman up to the present. You can participate in this free online class even if you have no previous experience with poetry. Here, you will learn to read poems that are apparently ‘hard.’ As you go along with the lyrics, you and the whole class will discuss the readings one at a time. This course is a lot easier than it seems, so it’s best to give it a try. 

The best part of this free online course is that it is available all year round. Meaning, you can enroll any time, any day. Every year, the system hosts an interactive 10-week session to complete a ten-week course syllabus. During this 10-week course, you will be guided through video discussions of every poem you read and community discussions. Plus, an interactive live webcast is done weekly, which you cannot see among other open online courses. 

Best Features:

  • 100% free and online
  • Perfect for beginners
  • The course is available all year round
  • Ten weeks long to complete the 10-course syllabus
  • Interactive webcasts every week
  • Instructors: Al Filreis, Kelly Professor, Director at the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, and Faculty Director at Kelly Writers House 
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Modern American Poetry

The University of Illinois at Urbana, via Coursera

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The University of Illinois at Urbana offers Modern American Poetry via Coursera. This course results from an analysis of modern American poets made by twelve experienced faculty members from different schools in the US. However, most people find poetry subtly dull, not this course, thanks to the richly illustrated video lectures. 

This free online course mainly focuses on both significant poets—from Emily Dickenson through T.S. Elliot, Walt Whitman, Amy Lowell, Langston Hughes, Hart Carne, Muriel Rukeyser, and many more—and notable movements. It mixes historical overviews with a careful reading of poems and individual poets. In most online courses, you are only given the instructor’s point of view. This program is different, as it matches US poetry with lectures by a handful of talented faculty members.

This 35-hour class also features onscreen displays of quotations and texts so that you can easily follow the material. This class takes advantage of the medium to give you sounds and sights that are often challenging to incorporate in classroom-based lectures. 

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Suitable for beginners 
  • Shareable Certificate
  • Onscreen displays of texts and quotations to make it easier for you to follow the materials
  • Taught by Cary Nelson, Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences
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Moralities of Everyday Life

Yale University, via Coursera

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How do you explain kindness? How can you justify cruelty? Why do we sometimes disagree on moral issues? Where do we draw the wisdom to know what is right and wrong? Moralities of Everyday Life will let you discover the psychological foundations of our daily life. 

This 6-week free online course starts with the big questions: what is morality? And what is moral psychology? Compassion is also discussed in the program, where you will learn where the concern for others comes from and how it is related to empathy. Is empathy necessarily a good thing? What can you learn from those who lack normal moral feelings like violent psychopaths? 

The course will also let you understand how a person’s moral behavior is powerfully influenced by the situations that everyone finds themselves in. Some findings raise critical problems about free will, determinism, and moral responsibility. Of course, if all our actions are determined by our genes, brains, and situations, in what sense can one be considered a moral agent? This course specifically addresses that question. 

Best Features:

  • 100% free and online
  • Paid Certificate available
  • The course takes 24 hours to complete
  • Taught by Paul Bloom, Brooks, and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University 
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Introduction to Ethics: Moral Problems and the Good Life

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX

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This free online course has two goals. The first goal focuses on the key questions you usually have in ethics.

  • What makes your life good or worse for you?
  • Do you believe ethics can be objective?
  • In ethics, what are the main historical approaches?
  • What do you owe to others?

The second goal will make you rigorously think about difficult ethical questions yourself so that your argumentative skills and critical reasoning skills are developed even more. Studying philosophy is generally valuable, but it also helps to have ample knowledge in other fields. In this course, instructor grading is offered. Should you choose to have a verified certificate, a professional philosopher will read, grade, and standard your work. 

If you are a verified learner, you are qualified for the MITx Philosophy Award (MITx High School Philosophy Award for high school learners). The MIT Philosophy Department awards this citation for outstanding written work. Winners are then profiled on the website of the Philosophy department of MIT.

Best Features:

  • 100% free and online
  • Self-paced
  • Ten weeks long to complete
  • You get the chance to be awarded the MITx Philosophy Award if you’re a verified learner.
  • Taught by Caspar Hare, Kieran Setiya, Tamar Shapiro, David Balcarras, and Cosmo Grant
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The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future

Emory University, via Coursera

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Drawing on an array of extensive and comparative examples and working through ancient and Biblical Near Easter texts, this course will show you the thorough manner with which biblical authors addressed defeat by advancing a demotic agenda that secures the community at the center. In the first part of the course, you are led to understand why the Bible was written. You will have to take a step back and have a larger view of the world in which Judah and Israel’s kingdoms emerged. 

When you complete the module, you will be able to:

  1. Describe how the location of Israel, which is secured between two great civilizational centers, made a decisive impact on history,
  2. Recognize why Egypt was interested in the land of the Bible (Canaan),
  3. Identify the whole context of the older references to Israel and places in the land of Israel appear,
  4. Study the influence of the Egyptian’s withdrawal from Canaan made it possible for territorial states, like Judah and Israel, to emerge in the first millennium BCE

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Paid Certificate Available
  • The course is six weeks long (roughly 20 hours to complete)
  • Taught by Dr. Jacob Wright, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible from Candler School of Theology and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies
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Cooking for Busy Healthy People

Stanford University, via Coursera

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Cooking is another interesting course under humanities. Cooking is, in fact, one of the best ways for people to optimize their enjoyment. In this free online course perfect for beginners, you will learn many essential recipes from two professional chefs and a home cook who prioritize healthy eating. You will also learn the basics of principle-based cooking that should help you break free from the usual chains of following exact recipes. After all, creative expression and better health heavily rely on your ability to improvise your kitchen and recipe using whatever is available in your pantry to make simple yet tasty meals. 

Course contributors include Jacopo Beni, Israel Garcia, Jesper Baanghaell, William Bottini, Sejal Parekh, Friday Films, and Perry Pickert.

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Paid Certificate Available
  • The course takes four weeks
  • Suitable for Beginners
  • Taught by Maya Adam
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Paradox and Infinity

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, via edX

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This 12-week free online course offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and delivered via edX is where you are introduced to highlights from the intersection of mathematics and philosophy. This class is divided into three modules:

Module 1 is Infinity. Here, you will learn more about how some infinities are more significant than others and discover the confusing order of bigger and bigger infinities.

Module 2 is Free Will and Time Travel. This module discusses whether time travel is possible and whether it is compatible with free will.

Module 3 is Computability and Godel’s Theorem. This is where you learn about why some mathematical functions are very complex, so much so that no computer can ever possibly computer them. The result is used to prove Godel’s very famous Incompleteness Theorem. 

This course under the philosophy department is a relatively math-heavy class, which presumes that you are comfortable with college-level mathematics and already familiar with mathematical proofs. If you display a fantastic performance in this class, you are qualified to win the MITx Philosophy Award. 

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Suitable for Intermediate-level learners
  • Certificate available for $99
  • The course is 12 weeks long, at 5-6 hours a week
  • Taught by Agustin Rayo
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Think Again 1: How to Understand Arguments

Duke University, via Coursera

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This course will delve deeper into what argument is. The word’s definition will allow you to recognize when speakers are arguing or not. You will also learn how to break down an argument into its critical parts, how to put them together to get their connections, and how you can fill in the gaps by adding suppressed premises. At the end of this free course, you will better understand and appreciate the common arguments you and others present. 

For a more detailed explanation and further exercises, or you wish to know more about the topic, Understanding Arguments: An Introduction to Informal Logic, 9th Edition by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Robert Fogelin is suggested reading. 

For the course format, every week is divided into several video segments that you can view on your own or with a group. After each component, short ungraded quizzes are conducted. By the end of the course, a longer graded examination is done. 

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Paid Certificate Available
  • The course lasts for four weeks
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Taught by Ram Neta and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
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Christianity Through Its Scriptures

Harvard University, via edX

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This is a religious course that will introduce you to the Bible and its scripture. As you begin the course, you will ask the questions:

  • What are the languages, contents, and forms of Bibles in different times and places?
  • How do Christians live out their teachings and stories?
  • How does Christian history reflect the various uses of scripture, most notably in the ancient Roman world where Christianity started, in its spread through American and European colonialism, in the distinct form it takes in different locations across the globe?

This free online course answers these questions. You will learn more about the interpretations and contents of these sacred texts.

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Paid Certificate available, at $99
  • 5-10 hours per week, for four weeks
  • Self-paced and ideal for beginners
  • Taught by Sarah Griffis and Karen L. King
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Journey of the Universe: Unfolding of Life

Yale University, via Coursera

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This course is based on a new integration that emerged from the dialogue of the sciences and humanities. It will tell you the story of evolution as an epic narrative, instead of the usual series of facts separated by different scientific disciplines. Your perception will change about development through the course as you start to see yourself being a part of this narrative.

By putting yourself within the story, you can appreciate even more the beauty and complexity of processes like natural selection, self-organizing dynamics, co-evolution, symbiosis, and emergency. As you slow discover these processes of evolution, you are then awakened to the complexity and beauty of our natural environment. 

Best Features:

  • 100% free and online
  • Paid Certificate Available
  • The course is six weeks long
  • Taught by industry experts John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker
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Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Ethics

University of California, Davis, via Coursera

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This course gives you first-hand experience with the two significant catalyzers of the revolution of computational science: artificial intelligence and big data. Today, with nearly 98% of the total worldwide population utilizing digital technology and 99% of all information in digital format, no doubt, humanity has produced a staggering digital footprint. Theoretically speaking, this offers unparalleled opportunities to shape and understand society. In practice, though, the only way this information deluge is processed is via using the same technology that produced it in the first place. 

This course will use IBM Watsons’ artificial intelligence to extract people’s personalities out of their digital text traces. You will then experience both the limitations and powers of machine learning by teaching two teachable machines from Google. 

Best Features:

  • 100% online and free
  • Paid Certificate available
  • The course lasts for four weeks
  • Suitable for Beginners
  • Taught by Martin Hilbert