As we look around at the world and this past years' trials and tribulations, we are increasingly posed with questions that we simply cannot answer as individuals. Thanks to globalization and a complex and instantaneous system of media connections, we have more access to information than ever before. That comes with a price. The questions we face don't have simple answers. They are complex beasts of intersectionality crossing all disciplines. Rather than cowering behind our department specifications, it seems high time we work to bridge our gaps of misunderstanding for the sake of collaborative, comprehensive solutions.
When it comes to answering questions that lie outside of one particular discipline, we normally turn to multidisciplinary approaches. We bring together a panel of experts and have them each speak to the research being done in their field to address this problem. What if, instead, we brought together those experts for the sake of answering the question together? What if our solution or answer was holistic enough to not just list the political, economic and social factors of the problem, but combine those factors to develop an actual solution? We live in a world of intersectionality where it's easy to overstep and alienate people by failing to acknowledge their very existence. So why would we think a prescriptive solution developed via one type of research in a single discipline is the answer? It is not.
It's time for more focus on interdisciplinary research. No, not multidisciplinary, where we all provide a description of the problem from our own realm for the sake of understanding the factors at play, but interdisciplinary; where we identify the moving parts, understand them and address them via collaboration between disciplines, not across them.
The call for interdisciplinary research may seem inevitable now, given the complexity of the world's problems, but maybe it has always been the solution. Decades ago, when the international studies program (an interdisciplinary program focused on the answering of interdisciplinary questions by combining knowledge and practices of multiple departments) was conceived as a minor at Luther, someone had the idea that combining the insights of multiple majors was the key to answering the big questions. Somewhere, sometime, people at Luther College decided thinking about international problems through an interdisciplinary lens was definitely worth our while, and I am determined to figure out who it was and how their insight developed into the program I now call my area of study.
This semester, I am undertaking a self-study of the international studies department with Professor Pedro Dos Santos. Though the program started as a minor, it has since evolved into a major program that continues to evolve as the department head and board work to improve the program. As the board continues to edit the curriculum and requirements, we are posed with the question of our own origin. We think the conversation about an interdisciplinary program with an international scope started decades ago, but we have yet to figure out who started that conversation and why. What complex questions troubled them to the point where they decided it was worth students' time to tackle these questions via this type of program.
I have the privilege and occasional burden of living in a world of obvious complexity and intersectionality. If I ever have to defend my choice in major, which happens more often than I would like, I can point to any of the events that occurred in the last year to highlight the merits in interdisciplinary study. But what did the creators of the international studies program point to when arguing for the creation of this program? I can tell you they were correct in their thinking. They were right in thinking interdisciplinary study would be an advantage and a necessity in answering 21st century problems. They were correct in calling for a diverse set of knowledge as opposed to a specialized one. Somehow, they knew the demand for graduates who can think outside of the pillars of disciplines would only increase as the years passed. What started as a conversation and an idea for a program is proving now to be an increasingly relevant and vital study. How did they know?
Well maybe, I'm postulating because we have yet to dig deeper into the question of the IS program origin, they were thinking about the liberal arts. Maybe, they were just inspired by the interdisciplinary thinking that has forever been promoted at Luther College and they decided it wasn't enough. Maybe, they saw our all-college requirements as building blocks to true interdisciplinary study, but they wanted more.
Having been in the international studies program for three years and having studied abroad, I see how the diversity in courses and materials I have covered fit the mold of the liberal arts and take it to a new level. Through classes in philosophy, economics, anthropology, political science and history, I've learned to look at the world as a body of individuals, cultures and societies acting and interacting based on their value systems. I see individuals as complex organisms influenced by both their biological make-up and their environment. I no longer settle on the easy answer, but I dig deeper. The reality is that there are always multiple factors at play and being able to identify why they interact is where you'll find the answer you're looking for.
Our all-college requirements and the ideals of cross-disciplinary liberal arts thinking are the ground work for true interdisciplinary work. We have the tools and the experience, we are taught and encouraged to see the connections, and now it's time to work together and build off of those.
Those who started the international studies department saw a need for this type of thinking and ran with it, in the same way Luther College sees the value in the liberal arts curriculum and embodies it. Now it's time for us, as students, faculty, staff, global citizens and critical thinkers to take that framework and use it. The questions we face today are daunting and complex, especially if we face them alone. Therefore, it is our task and our duty, as a liberal arts centered community, to see the connections between our areas of study and bond together to answer those questions. If we can't see the interdisciplinary connections, then who will?