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Interdisciplinarity, History and Cultural Encounters

  • Svend Erik Larsen (a1) (a2)


Interdisciplinarity has entered the agenda of researchers, teachers and policy makers and will remain there in the future. This does not mean that interdisciplinarity is understood the same way, let alone is appreciated everywhere. Researchers are challenged by increasingly complex problems in culture, nature and society beyond disciplinary boundaries; higher education has to cater to a volatile job market where known disciplines no longer define their own niches in terms of topics or practices for their candidates; and decision makers are confronted with challenges that do not respect ideologies of political parties and reports based on mainstream knowledge. In this context, interdisciplinarity is an ongoing re-consideration of the creation, the communication and the application of knowledge uniting the perspectives of research, teaching and decision making. While most discussions on interdisciplinarity focus on its theoretical and methodological complexity in an exclusively contemporary perspective, this article will discuss interdisciplinarity in a historical perspective as central to European history of knowledge as well as in an intercultural perspective.*



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1. A few recent contributions to the debate: Alvargonzález, D. (2011) Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and the sciences. In: International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 25(4), pp. 387–403 (, accessed 15 January 2016); B. Choi, B.C.K. and A.W.P. Pak (2006) Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness. In: Clinical & Investigative Medicine, 29(6), pp. 351–364. (, accessed 15 January 2016); J. Klein et al. (Eds) (2001) Transdisciplinarity: Joint Problem Solving among Science, Technology, and Society (Basel: Birkhäuser); Nature, 16 September 2015. Special Issue: Interdisciplinarity (, accessed 15 January 2016); H. Nowotny, P. Scott and M. Gibbons (2001) Rethinking Science: Knowledge in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity); I. Stavridou and A. Ferreira (2010) Multi- inter- and trans-disciplinary research promoted by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST): Lessons and experiments. [Research Report]. HAL. Archives ouvertes (, accessed 12 January 2016).
2. Snow, C.P. (1993) The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
3. Dilthey, W. (1883) Einleitung in die Geisteswissenshaften (, accessed 6 May 2016).
4. Kant, I. (1798) Die Streit der Fakultäten (, accessed 6 May 2016).
5.Aristotle (fourth century BCE) Nichomachean Ethics (, accessed 6 May 2016).
6. Rachum, I. (1994) The term ‘revolution’ in seventeenth-century English astrology. In: History of European Ideas, 18(6), pp. 869883.
7. Vico, G. (1999) New Science (London: Penguin)
8. Buffon, G. (1917) Des époques de la nature (Paris: Editions rationalistes).
9. Larsen, S.E. (2006) The Lisbon earthquake and the scientific turn in Kant’s philosophy. In: European Review, 14(3), pp. 359367.
10. d’Alembert, J. (2000) Discours préliminaire de l’Encyclopédie (Paris: Vrin). On the figurative system, see, accessed 6 May 2016.
11. San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (2012) (, accessed 6 May 2016).
12. Miyazaki, I. (1976) China’s Examination Hell. The Civil Service Examination of Imperial China (New Haven: Yale University Press).


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