Over the last several months, two new programs have been introduced at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with the aim of making the experiences of graduate students in the humanities more interdisciplinary.
Launched last year, the Yale Initiative for the Study of Antiquity and the Premodern World (YISAP) is the largest program in the world to bring together an interdisciplinary group of 60 scholars to study the ancient world up to 1000 A.D. Meanwhile, the joint Philosophy-Psychology Ph.D., first offered this year, will allow students to obtain Ph.D.’s in both fields with only one dissertation.
Faculty members and students from several departments participate in YISAP programming, which includes conferences, a monthly workshop centered around a particular theme and a graduate seminar. YISAP designer and classics and history professor Joe Manning said the program is currently in a three-year trial period, adding that he hopes YISAP will soon raise the funds required to become a permanent fixture of humanities at Yale.
Classics professor Chris Kraus, one of the designers of YISAP, said the program was initially an attempt to make the most of Yale’s ancient studies departments without hiring new professors.
“People studying ancient history are starting to talk to each other in ways they didn’t before,” she said.
Religious Studies professor Hindy Najman, another director of YISAP, said one of the strengths of the program is how it takes advantage of Yale’s strong resources for the study of ancient civilizations. For example, YISAP’s steering committee includes librarians and curators from around the University, she said. Disciplines represented among the faculty involved in YISAP include Classics, East Asian Studies, computer science, law and religious studies.
Najman also said the program helps create a more holistic humanities curriculum for graduate students.
“There’s a sense that the humanities is far more integrated than current departmental boundaries would suggest,” she said. “Without jettisoning those boundaries, students wanted a way to create an integrated context for conversation, collaboration, writing, thinking and programming,” she said.
Manning said this kind of interdisciplinary thinking has become more common when studying the ancient world.
Professors from a variety of disciplines are working on creating “huge databases of [ancient] human civilizations” to figure out what academics know and what remains a mystery, he said.
“This [method] is just starting, and I want Yale to be at the forefront,” he said.
All three YISAP co-designers agreed that getting undergraduates more involved in YISAP is a priority. Though they said that creating an undergraduate major in the vein of YISAP might not be feasible in the near future, they added that some kind of a program in the humanities focusing on antiquity could be a good addition.
François Gerardin GRD ’18, who studies Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, said he enrolled in YISAP’s workshop because it provided a unique opportunity to engage with members of different departments.
“One of the benefits of attending the workshops is seeing people not only in your department but also in other departments, and that’s how you can build an interdisciplinary network,” Gerardin said.
Psychology department chair Frank Keil said he hopes the joint Philosophy-Psychology doctorate degree program will attract more students to Yale to do interdisciplinary work between philosophy and psychology. Though there are currently no students in the new program, Philosophy professor Joshua Knobe said he expects students to enroll as the semester and year continues.
In order to complete the degree program, students must undertake two-thirds of the coursework for the philosophy doctorate and two-thirds of the coursework for the psychology doctorate, in addition to a dissertation exploring both fields.
According to Knobe, the degree program aims to fully qualify its students for careers in either discipline.
“[The degree program] provides a framework and legitimacy to a genuine cross-disciplinary graduate experience,” Philosophy department chair Stephen Darwall said.
Knobe said the idea for the program arose from a collection of students who were very interested in philosophical questions and psychological methods. Having a program that formalizes these interests will make it much easier for students with these interests to pursue them at Yale and beyond, he said.
Before this joint degree option was made possible, students could petition the University to pursue a degree in both departments. However, there has only been one student to do so, Jonathan Philips GRD ’16, who Darwall called the “trailblazer” for the program.
Philips, who first came to Yale to pursue a doctorate in philosophy, said when he decided he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in philosophy and psychology, he had agreed to fulfill almost all of the graduate requirements for both departments. He said creating this joint program will make attaining his degree much more feasible for future students.
YISAP works with institutions around Yale including the Yale University Art Gallery, the Peabody Museum and Beinecke Library.