May 21, 2018  
2015-2016 Undergraduate Catalogue 
2015-2016 Undergraduate Catalogue Archived Catalogue

III. Thematic Transdisciplinary Cluster

Note: This catalogue has been amended per a 2016 UNCW Faculty Senate decision to retroactively remove the Thematic Transdisciplinary Cluster requirement from the University Studies program. Students who wish to complete a cluster may do so, however, completion of a cluster is no longer required. 

A Thematic Transdisciplinary Cluster is a trio of thematically-related courses from University Studies and departmental majors that allows students to investigate a common theme through multiple disciplinary lenses. Through the completion of a cluster, students will develop their critical thinking skills by integrating the methods and findings specific to each disciplinary perspective. Cross-disciplinary study equips students with the skills to seek creative solutions to difficulties they will encounter when dealing with the complex problems that shape our modern world.

At least 9 credit hours and three courses are required. All courses are eligible for multiple counting. Students who complete a minor, a second major, or a University Studies Advisory Committee-approved concentration in their major are exempt from the cluster requirement. Students will declare the cluster theme online in mySeaport (Major Declaration/Curricular Updates), and will select courses with at least two different departmental prefixes from one of the following clusters:

Ancient Thought and Culture

The study of ancient Western thought and culture is a critical part of the human intellectual, cultural and historical heritage, both for Western countries formed by it and for all of modern global culture that has been influenced by it.

The study of Western art, history, literature, philosophy and religion is highly appropriate for integrative disciplinary studies, which can only enhance one another. The study of ancient Athens is at once the study of the Parthenon, of Pericles and the history of the Peloponnesian War, of Socratic dialogue, of tragic and comic drama, and of the beginning of scientific and philosophical thought. The study of the Roman Empire and of medieval European culture is at once a study of art, politics, literature, philosophy and religion that all interact and mutually influence one another.

In content and in form, there are excellent reasons for encouraging students to study ancient thought and culture as a unique historical period from the vantage point of different humanities disciplines.


Child and Adolescent Studies

The aim of this cluster is to examine, in a multidisciplinary way, the issues, concepts, and debates that surround the study of children, adolescents, their experiences, and representations. Courses included in the cluster collectively help students theorize and historicize the figures of the Child and the Adolescent, and situate their study within contemporary cultural contexts. By examining representations of young people, students develop an understanding of childhood and adolescence as historical, social, and legal phenomena, and are able to critically engage with such representations. This approach prepares students for further study and careers in many areas including education, publishing, public policy, counseling, social services, and youth programming.

Climate Change and Society

The complex interactions between human societies and the environment has not only affected every ecosystem on Earth, but also molded the evolution of human society through time. With an ever increasing pool of evidence indicating that significant anthropogenic climate change is highly likely in the near future, it is important that we fully understand the potential impacts of such changes on natural ecosystems and society. Such complex interactions at the global scale are well suited as a topic in a thematic transdisciplinary cluster, as the most pressing and salient questions are interdisciplinary. For example, how have humans affected the world’s climate and ecosystems? How do anthropogenic impacts on climate change compare to natural climate variability? What impacts might climate change have on natural ecosystems and human societies? Are complex human societies capable of adapting to significant climate change? What is the most effective means of communicating complex climate change data to the general public? Here we propose a group of courses especially well-suited to address these complex questions from a variety of perspectives. Exposure to a combination of the physical and social sciences specifically addressing these questions is the only meaningful way to grasp the complex past and future interactions between humans and the climate system.

Coastal Health and Environment

This Coastal Health cluster is designed to focus on the interplay between the environment and human health, and more specifically, on maintaining human health in a coastal environment. Because of the interaction between humans and their physical and social environments, the quality of these environments impact health. As a consequence, environment and health are interrelated. When analyzing relationships between environment and health, it is of vital importance to consider a broader definition of environment, which includes not only the quality of the air, water and ground, but also, indoor air quality, food and the living, working and social environments. It is also important to understand the growing body of scientific evidence revealing that the interaction of health and the environment is reciprocal - that is, the environment can affect human health and that human health care can affect the environment.

Due to the complexity of this reciprocal relationship, examination must occur from a multi-disciplinary, ecological, and multiple-system approach. One example is the social-ecological model of health. The first level of analysis focuses upon individual biology and other personal characteristics, such as age, education, income, and health history. The second level focuses on relationship, which includes an individual’s social circle, such as friends, partners, and family members, all of whom influence human behavior and contribute to life experiences. The third level, community/environment, explores the characteristics of the physical settings in which people have social relationships, such as schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods, and examines how these settings affect health. Finally, the fourth level looks at the broad societal factors that favor or impair health. Examples include cultural and social norms and the health, economic, educational, and social policies that help to create, maintain, or lessen socioeconomic inequalities among groups (CDC, 2007; Krug et al., 2002). Insights from Environmental Science, Philosophy, and Biology enhance this model, creating a multi-disciplinary approach to the issues at hand. Finally, we should also consider philosophical and artistic treatments of the reciprocal interactions between humans and the environment as part of human health.

There are many problems needing creative solutions that students can investigate through a multidisciplinary frame. A multidisciplinary approach can be taken to investigate related questions, such as how can coastal communities figure out how to reap the economic benefits of coastal resources while maintaining health and quality of life for humans? And, how does the coastal environment impact personal health influences such as body image, risk factors for skin cancer, peer pressure, and the generational gap between collage age students and our retirement and aging population? When understanding and addressing health and human services from the context of the coastal region, “place” is important to achieving balance.


The concept of evolution is foundational to many fields of science, including anthropology, biology, geology, paleontology, and psychology. Evolution is a scientific concept, which means it addresses questions about the natural world through a process of testing hypotheses with empirical evidence. But, because science is limited to explaining natural phenomena using empirical evidence, it cannot provide religious, philosophical, or ultimate explanations for life. Humanities-based views on evolution will allow students to consider cultural/societal implications of evolution, address moral and ethical dimensions of their decisions, and explore questions of ultimate purpose and meaning that are beyond the scope of science. This cluster will allow students to study the evolution of life from the perspective of different scientific disciplines, as well as to think about its significance in relation to human life and culture, including our philosophical, religious, historical, artistic and literary modes of reflection. An evolution cluster of courses can be expected to stimulate students’ abilities to recognize multiple viewpoints concerning evolution and to consider how and to what extent these perspectives complement or compete with one another.

Foundations for Systems Thinking

We all realize that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. Why is this, and how do parts of systems fit together? Understanding of the mechanisms that generate whole-system level, emergent patterns is the focus of the
Foundations in Systems Thinking Cluster. The world around us is fundamentally hierarchical – systems within systems, nested like matryoshka dolls – from human societies that build from individual to family, neighborhood, community, and nation, to the natural world, which builds from organism to population, community, and ecosystem. All such systems have internal feedbacks and dynamics (e.g., supply and demand, competition for resources) that can produce emergent properties difficult to predict by examining a single level of organization (e.g., economic globalization, altruistic social networks). Groundbreaking advances in any one discipline have often occurred when investigators apply systems thinking from a different discipline. By understanding that systems are nested hierarchies and bringing insights from different disciplines to bear on new problems, students can learn how to look to lower levels of organization for mechanistic processes and to higher levels for other kinds of constraints on system dynamics and organization.

Gender and Social Justice

In recent years, much inquiry and activism have focused on the implications of gender difference in practices of social justice worldwide. Most often, we hear about gender difference in practices of social justice in the social or political context, such as new legislation or policies denying or providing retribution in class action litigation.

Courses included here enable students to further explore the interconnectivity of gender (in)equality and social justice from multiple perspectives, addressing content from a variety of disciplines. Topics include, but are not limited to: gender and global development strategies or macroeconomic policies; access to education; writing memoirs and manifestos; historical movements for gender equality; religions and their traditions and contemporary practices; access to medical and nutritional aide; pay equity; systems of protection and justice; value systems, civil rights, media representation, and rights to free expression.

Global Diversity

This cluster will allow students to investigate global diversity in order to understand better the importance and implication of cultural and religious diversity. Students will consider questions such as: What role does global diversity play in encouraging different perspectives and fostering creativity and innovation? How does one navigate between international, cultural, and religious differences? Issues and topics explored in this cluster could include diasporic traditions, multiculturalism, cultural diversity, and religious pluralism.

Human Behavior

The purpose of this cluster on “Human Behavior” is to help students recognize multiple competing and complementary theoretical perspectives on human behavior from the different academic disciplines. By examining research and theories developed in each diverse field, students will recognize that these different approaches, methods of analysis, and theories give them different insights into why people behave the way they do, what gets classified as “normal” versus “aberrant” behaviors, and how students can best approach the many individual and social challenges facing them in the world.

Whether focusing on individuals’ bodies and psyches, or on more comprehensive analysis of group communication, organizational structures, and social and cultural systems, or on the intersection of these different system levels, diverse disciplines in the social sciences, humanities, and professional programs have developed tools and approaches to conduct research to predict human behavior and design interventions to address individual and social needs. This cluster will prepare students for a critical, thoughtful engagement with the challenges that face individuals, families, communities, organizations, and larger social structures.  

Human Rights

Globalization has drawn much attention to and roused important debates about human rights: protections, privileges, powers, and access to resources to which people everywhere are justly entitled by virtue of being human. Discussions and controversies have proliferated since the post-World War II UN Declaration on Human Rights and the numerous subsequent declarations. While there are mechanisms in place to put pressure upon states that violate human rights, the difficulties of implementing such measures and ensuring human rights protections are significant. At the same time, globalized communication and exchanges of ideas have fostered a multitude of popular social movements aimed at drawing attention to human rights abuses and organizing resistance against the forces, processes, and institutions, as well as the states, that create them.

This cluster provides students with a comprehensive understanding of human rights through an integrated cross-disciplinary survey. The theme of human rights will be approached through different theoretical and critical viewpoints, including but not limited to, anthropological, philosophical, historical, and humanistic perspectives. Through courses offered across a range of programs, students will explore the diversity of the world’s human rights issues related to: genocide, refugees and displaced people, tribal sovereignty, cultural survival, social justice, labor and working conditions, violence against women, human trafficking, child welfare, health and access to medical care, immigration and citizenship status, transnational migration flows, political oppression and state use of violence, environmental justice, environmental degradation, and equitable access to natural resources. By learning about local and global strategies and solutions to these problems, students will be able to examine more critically and engage more concertedly the world in which they live.



The topic of immigration, or the migration of people from one location to another, has received a lot of attention in the United States and throughout the world in the last decade. Most often, we hear about immigration within a political context - new legislation or policies denying or providing some rights to immigrants. This interdisciplinary thematic cluster on immigration will provide students the opportunity to approach this broad topic from many viewpoints and disciplines. Our hope is that after completing this cluster, students will be prepared to critically analyze the many sides of the immigration issue, both domestically and internationally, while proposing and analyzing solutions to the ‘immigration problem,’ taking into account the many views introduced to them in the cluster courses.

Judaism and the Jewish People

Over the course of 3000 years, the Jews have made their way from their historic homeland in Israel to distant lands. Their customs and values have kept evolving to meet the needs of their new environments. The Jews have always developed dynamic and reciprocal relationships with the societies that have surrounded them—relationships that have fundamentally transformed the practice of Judaism and the landscape of Jewish culture. But of equal significance is the impact the Jews have had on their non-Jewish neighbors. From Christianity and Islam to capitalism and communism, from European philosophy to American humor and Soviet jazz music, the Jews have bequeathed a rich heritage to humanity. To experience Jewish culture in all its facets is to understand better the world in which we live.


The courses in this cluster will give students opportunities to analyze language from different perspectives. A multitude of questions inform these perspectives, including: how does history play a part in shaping language change? What cultural forces give one language variety prestige over others? What differences exist between first and second language acquisition? After completing this cluster on linguistics, students will be able to look at language as a whole and languages in particular through both scientific and social lenses. They will gain an insight into how human language functions and how it differs across geographic, social, temporal and contextual frames.


A model can be thought of as an abstract, non-unique, description of a natural system that captures its features essential for addressing the modeling objectives. Nearly every discipline creates models that mimic the “real world” and enable scholars to make predictions and develop understanding crucial to specific fields of study. Models often
simplify to clarify, but students do not often fully appreciate that they are using a model that contains simplifying assumptions. Further, despite encountering models across disciplines, many students do not at first see the connections between how different disciplines develop and define them. This cluster of courses emphasizes the common aspects of models used in a variety of disciplines. By taking these courses, students will demonstrate an understanding of the common elements, important limitations, and powerful predictive properties that models provide. And students will compare and contrast these models as a way to assess their applicability across a range of contexts.


Public Health and Human Development

The Public Health and Human Development cluster will provide a multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary focus on the identification and solution of pressing modern problems in human health and development at any level from the molecular to the environmental. As we move further into the 21st century, old problems like overpopulation, environmental degradation, and pandemic disease will continue to vex our society. At the same time, new problems like blurring distinctions between humans and computers, how to manage and use personal genetic information, addressing complex health needs in today’s society, and equitable access to increasingly expensive health technologies will also demand solution.

The motivation for this cluster is the belief that only the interaction of scientific and humanities approaches can make headway into the solution of these multifactorial problems. This cluster will bring humanities students into closer touch with the significance of scientific and technological expertise, and provide science students with a humanistic context and sensibility for their work. Both groups will see that the entire solution to complex problems requires appreciation of and contributions from both traditions.

The Public Health and Human Development cluster will produce scholars and leaders—as well as consumers, parents and voters—who are cognizant of both scientific and humanistic thought and methodology, able to apply them to societal problems, and able to work well in multi-disciplinary settings.