A discipline is a branch of study; interdisciplinarity is the employment of multiple disciplines in the examination of a specific topic, which in our case lies within the domain of the arts. While I am particularly concerned with how the various arts operate in tandem within a certain historical and cultural moment, ultimately I leave it up to the students to determine their interdisciplinary projects. Notwithstanding, interdisciplinarity expands the boundaries of conventional knowledge exponentially, and thus should be considered at the forefront of academic inquiry.
Interdisciplinary studies should ask complex or vexing questions that cannot be answered adequately within the boundaries of the given discipline as it is defined at a particular moment. Interdisciplinary studies should encounter a beast that, if examined solely with the tools of the discipline, would leave out major body parts—parts that are inexplicable within the discipline.
In order to answer these troublesome questions, the scholar reaches out to other disciplines, borrowing tools, methodologies, or knowledge. The goal is to answer the question, to study the beast, to examine the object. The interdisciplinary scholar stands at the edge of the known world of the discipline and looks out.
I am arguing, then, for a form of interdisciplinarity that is solidly grounded within a discipline, employing, at least in part and at first, existing scholarship and methodology. Interdisciplinary research then transforms the discipline, but is nonetheless based in that discipline. This form of interdisciplinarity might be called discipline-based, in which disciplinary work is essential to interdisciplinary studies, and interdisciplinary studies are essential to the future development of the discipline. The scholar should have a disciplinary home, but also have knowledge of cognate disciplines. The discipline provides the fundamental tools of education, core knowledge, identification of the problem, peer review, and dissemination. Interdisciplinarity provides new methodologies and new areas of inquiry.
The goal of interdisciplinary studies, then, is not just to look at the same objects from a new perspective (as valuable as that may be), but to examine new objects that have previously not been considered noteworthy or sufficiently related to the discipline, and to do so in new ways. Carp quotes Roland Barthes in this regard: "Interdisciplinarity consists in creating a new object that belongs to no one." The goal, then, is not merely to produce new knowledge but also to engender new fields of inquiry.
Interdisciplinary studies provide the essential mechanism by which the discipline questions itself and opens itself up to external examination—ultimately perpetuating reform. Disciplinarity without interdisciplinarity is a dead discipline.
Ultimately this argument undermines the opposition of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. If disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity exist at opposite sides of a binary opposition, the terms lose meaning; the structure collapses upon itself. Instead, these notions can be seen as sliding along a continuum. Disciplinary and interdisciplinary studies should permeate and infuse one another, operating in a complementary relationship. Disciplinarity provides the basis for scholarship and the peer-review process. Interdisciplinarity offers the opportunities for new questions, new tools, and new objects.
Archaically, discipline meant instruction given to a disciple, and a "disciple" would take apart. Meanings for the prefix "inter" include between, among, and together. The word interdisciplinary as a whole suggests learning by both taking apart and bringing together. Interdisciplinary research is indeed vast with boundaries in flux that we continue to tailor to meet our own interests and contexts of study.
We can distinguish two styles of interdisciplinary scholarship: the theoretical and areal. The theoretical scholar analyzes a subject already studied in depth by colleagues in his or her home discipline but deploys a theory from outside the discipline to illuminate an unseen facet of the subject. In contrast the areal scholar focuses on a particular period and place and reveals a basis of comparison between seemingly disparate phenomena like historical developments in discourse, politics, and art forms.
Interdisciplinarity is the combination of different disciplinary ideals and approaches for the purpose of new methodologies. As such, one firstly identifies the way in which disciplines represent distinct measures or critical interests and then moves to identify the collateral concerns of different disciplines or how these distinct ideas might be brought in conversation with one another as diacritical or dialogical exchange. Thus interdisciplinary scholarship emphasizes the consequential way objects and ideals appreciably represent multiple ideals and not strictly the critical concerns of a single discipline.
Interdisciplinarity in general is based on the deep affinity of all branches of knowledge, an affinity which is best expressed in philosophical thought. Art and philosophy have a common purpose: to change the inner human being, but they go about this purpose differently. Philosophy addresses the inner person in us directly, through conceptual thinking, while art transforms external reality – everything from landscape to the human body itself – in order to transform the human person's inner world. The various art forms are united by this common task and way of doing things and therefore are best understood in their mutual conjunction. This idea forms the basis for the simultaneous study of several art forms, as well as of philosophy along with the arts.
Interdisciplinarity entails drawing on – or putting into conversation with each other – multiple fields of scholarly inquiry for the study of any given subject.
I approach the arts from the standpoint of being a performer in music and a music historian. This is always a guiding force for looking to see how to find common threads within the work (s) under examination. I look to see an amalgamation of ideas, influences and/or objects. The resulting fusion, blending or integration of ideas brings about something different from specialization or comparative techniques. Synthesis becomes an overarching principle for the way we look at things or ideas already present in certain disciplines, such as opera, theater, music, art, dance or film. In reference to my teaching, I see that I am working to find ways to interconnect more than one discipline into the frame of my courses. The focus on unification of ideas in the arts provides an interesting and exciting opportunity for interdisciplinary study.