Interdisciplinary programs are not just for humanities—they’re a path forward for the university.
By Jacob Feiser
The age of interdisciplinary education is here. 700 years ago, there were really only three studies one could pursue in university: law, medicine, and theology. Looking around today, there are hundreds of degrees, specializations, certificates, and concentrations that one can attain across the many university systems both in America and beyond. Even this year, new degrees for areas of study are proposed and approved at various institutions across the academic world. Depending on the size of the university, a student’s degree choices may seem limitless. Be the student to study 16th-century French Literature or Women’s Studies, now more than ever, conservatives have been questioning the importance of the liberal arts and a college education generally.
Are we too specialized?
I am still convinced of the continuing value of college education, although this is not universally the case – there is education done right, and education done wrong, after all. Yet, reflecting on my own college experience (with only a few months left to go) and the experience of friends at other institutions, I have come to see how specialized everything has become, even at the undergraduate level. In discussing this observation with one of my economics professors, he remarked how, within the world of economics, specialization has killed broader study: monetary economists are unable to talk to business cycle economists are unable to talk to economic historians. Other academic disciplines are hardly different.
Grove City College’s core curriculum – the humanities and civilization classes that seek to grow students’ appreciation and understanding of Western civilization – is somewhat anomalous in that every student is required to take these classes or reasonable substitutes. Yet, the core curriculum aside, very few students often do substantive coursework outside of their areas of study. I, for one, am somewhat guilty of this, with the exception of my work in the Physics department. My experience as a student, however, has not been limited to a single area of study, but to four.
A New Perspective
In pursuing a major and three minors, I have realized how different disciplines approach the same issue, or how the different disciplines complement each other in terms of both methodology and substance. As a sophomore, I took the History of Economic Thought sequence, which covered economic thought from Homer and Hesiod to the modern day – not a single semester has gone by where I have not used some degree of information I learned in that initial sequence, or applied methodology taught, or merely was able to contextualize an event based on its intellectual period in history.
The previous three conference papers I have presented have integrated economics, theology, and history. By bringing the fields of study together, not only was my understanding of various topics (e.g., the market theology of the early Church, or medieval Islamic economic thought) enhanced, but the sources that I could draw upon were far more varied and thorough. The intellectual picture, so to speak, was more vivid, colorful, and real; a better understanding of such things is a closer realization of the truth itself.
Is PPE the Next Big Thing?
Most of the time, when students engage in multiple fields of study, they keep each discipline separate. Yet, as my college experience has demonstrated, students find more value in integrating those studies together than in keeping them apart. Not only does this allow a student to have a deeper and more complete appreciation for God’s design of creation, or perhaps it allows students to be able to connect the academic dots a little more clearly, but it also improves job prospects and employment viability in the market.
Interdisciplinary education gives students a similarly wide and deep education in a smattering of fields, providing students multiple avenues through which to seek employment or further study. The most famous is the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) program, first started at Oxford in the early 20th century. Since then, many universities, both in Britain and America, have introduced the PPE program to startling success.
The Future of Education
Of course, such a program depends upon already-solid individual departments; this is true of every interdisciplinary field, including Grove City College’s first inter-disciplinary program, the Applied Science and Engineering major, which “emphasizes the integration and application of engineering, scientific, and mathematical principles,” (GCC College Catalogue, 81). Interdisciplinary studies prepare students for the real world far more than a narrow single area of study does. Even if universities do not officially have such programs, students have the capacity to pursue those studies themselves. Should a university actually have an official interdisciplinary program, students would receive the training and formal structure this provides. While PPE is a tried-and-true beginning for interdisciplinary programs, schools should not stop there. As Grove City College demonstrates, interdisciplinary programs are not just for the humanities, and the more broad scope these programs are, the greater application they will have.
This is not a call to abolish the single-field study matrix that has worked so well for so long. Many students are fully content in focusing on a single major, or in limiting themselves to mere multidisciplinary education (i.e., there is no integration of the various fields). But if colleges and universities are to continue building up students holistically, which includes preparing them for job-readiness, then interdisciplinary studies will be a necessary field for schools to develop. 700 years ago, students had three subjects from which to study. Today, there are hundreds. And each school does it a little differently. But only in modern times do students now have the opportunity to blend those studies comprehensively. It is high time Christian education – real Christian education – adopts this option of study.
About the Author
Jacob S. Feiser is a research fellow for the Institute for Faith & Freedom and a senior political science major with minors in Biblical and religious studies, economics, and history from Havertown, PA. As a third-generation pastor’s kid, Jacob has always engaged with the intersection of culture, theology, and politics. On campus, Jacob is the Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs for the Student Government Association, the Executive Content Editor for the Grove City College Journal of Law and Public Policy, the Senior Chair of Worship for Homecoming, and a ranking member of the Student-Faculty Review Committee. He also competes for Grove City College on the Classical Fencing team.
Jacob works as a teaching assistant for Dr. James Bibza, Dr. Joseph Loconte, and President Paul McNulty, and is the campus Latin tutor. Jacob is also a physics lab assistant. He has placed in several academic competitions, focusing his research on Christian doctrine, procedural justice, legal metaphysics, and religious economic thought.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed are those of the writer alone and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grove City College, the Institute for Faith and Freedom, or their affiliates.