Despite the immense diversity of creation, we all accept that there exists in nature a profound underlying unity. The search for this unity provides the motivation for the lives of many different men — some who, like Einstein, search for it in general natural laws and others who, like Teilhard de Chardin, would trace cosmic evolution to a divine origin.
René Dubos, Science and Man’s Nature (1965)
Everyone is different, and everyone has a filter. From the DNA at the heart of each cell to the soul’s expression shaped by a particular cultural milieu, each human is unique. We engage the world as ourselves and in ways that no one else can. Our inborn material and immaterial structures ground the unique perspectives through which we understand the world. Our experiences shape our structures of knowledge and assumptions. Through these structures, we interpret reality, fill in blanks, and block out what does not fit. Cut off from others, we are left with a filtered comprehension that is often hidden from consciousness. We need each other, for only in relationship can we each fill our unique place in the human community and form the feedback loops that expose our gaps and misunderstandings.
The Place of Disciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity
Bringing this interplay of uniqueness and community into the academy points to a need for both disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. Outside of community, disciplinary uniqueness can lead to a narrowing of perspective and the hardening of silos. Life inside a silo may seem fine, but it is cut off from the broader academic community and may result in a filtered comprehension of reality that comes to be interpreted as a complete and correct understanding. Even if interdisciplinary opportunities are available, an inbred disciplinary perspective can result in clashes of culture and language that make interdisciplinary conversation difficult (Strober, 2010). Through interdisciplinarity, disciplines practice self-reflection that exposes siloed disciplinary assumptions. Through interdisciplinarity, each discipline’s unique contribution is placed in context alongside other disciplinary contributions. Cultural and linguistic gaps are overcome through openness, curiosity, and hard work over time. As seen in the Dubos quote, there is something about reality the declares “a profound underlying unity.” Academia needs this unity.
The Ultimate Source of Unity and Diversity
I propose that Jesus is the true and ultimate source of the unity proclaimed by the universe. He created the universe and everything in it. His voice echoes in all things, and his creativity shaped all things. From the beginning of everything to the innumerable processes that maintain reality and create its diversity, everything bears his mark. He is Sovereign over all things. In his providential sovereignty, he cares for the universe and its continuing existence. In his judicial sovereignty, he upholds his divine will and brings justice against all who strive against it. He has redeemed everything and is restoring everything to its original, glorious purpose. Because he is the ultimate source of unity and the creator of diversity, those who know him know why disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity exist and are important. Christians in the academy, and especially for those of us in Christian higher education, have a mandate to integrate disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. We have a mandate to work alongside Jesus and in the company of our Christian siblings from across the disciplines, restoring all things to his lordship and exposing the amazing, variegated glory of God.
Dubos, R. (1965). Science and Man’s Nature. In Science and Culture (Winter 1965), pp. 223-244, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20026904
Strober, M. (2010). Interdisciplinary Conversations: Challenging Habits of Thought. Stanford University Press.