The Interdisciplinary Nature of the Liberal Arts

by Zachary Domach

Familiarity with a multiple of disciplines is vital to mental growth because it allows you to understand how different subjects are inter-related. My time at Emory has reinforced this point over and over. As a joint Classics & History major with a double major in Music (Composition) my course of study has been, by nature, quite interdisciplinary. Studying all three of these subjects simultaneously has exposed me to connections between them that I never would have otherwise understood. Moreover, it has given me a platform for further investigation and application in these fields down the road.

My thesis – “Tempered in the Christian Fire: Greek and Roman Wisdom Literature in Early Christian Teaching and Moral Traditions” – draws upon Classics, History, Philosophy, Theology, Patristics, and Literature. While these disciplines are distinct, they complement and inform each other in numerous ways, making the final product much stronger (and often more accessible) than if it remained limited to just one or two subject areas. The different fields of the liberal arts are closely intertwined; an interdisciplinary approach to humanities research builds upon those connections and brings a more holistic perspective.

Emory University encourages an interdisciplinary mindset at the undergraduate level not only by offering joint majors like mine, but also through interdepartmental programs (Ethics, Global Health, Ancient Mediterranean Studies, Community Building and Social Change, etc.), and cross-listed courses, many of which are co-taught by professors from different departments. Cross-listed courses, interdepartmental programs (Institute for Liberal Arts, Graduate Division of Religion, etc.), and joint degree programs (JD/MPH, MD/MSCR, MTS/MBA, etc.) exist at the graduate level as well.

The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry promotes interdisciplinary approaches as well. The Center is composed of fellows from across the humanities. Conversation among fellows is constantly encouraged, especially during the weekly lunches where the fellows respond to a pre-arranged topic. Because every fellow is working on a project – be it a book, dissertation, or thesis – it is easy to get feedback from the perspective of other disciplines. Without such feedback and interdisciplinary awareness, it is easy to forget the value of other methodologies and adopt a too narrow investigative mindset. By engaging in an interdisciplinary approach, however, humanities’ research becomes what it should be: a thoughtful, holistic probing of questions with attentiveness to their broader implications.