Interdisciplinary Studies

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

ISF is an interdisciplinary major and a research-driven program of liberal education. It has been ranked the top personalized major offered at US universities and colleges. ISF offers students the unique opportunity to develop an individualized cross-disciplinary research program that includes a course of study and a senior thesis. The course of study is made up of courses taken in the social sciences, the humanities, and/or the professional schools and colleges, alongside the required courses in ISF.  The capstone experience is a scholarly, rigorously-researched, 40-page required senior thesis, which represents a sustained inquiry in the social sciences or humanities based on original, cross-disciplinary research.

ISF has identified a number of interdisciplinary research fields that have engendered excellent scholarship and attracted students across campus. ISF students may pursue other research fields identified in consultation with ISF faculty and academic advisers. The already-defined ISF research fields provide models and resources about scholarly interests. The research fields found on the ISF website are there to help ISF students identify their own research interests and customize their own research program and course of liberal arts study.

Declaring the Major

Students may apply to the major once per semester. The application deadline is approximately the end of the sixth week of the semester. Students are encouraged to meet with an ISF faculty adviser well in advance of the application deadline date. The application package should consist of a well-conceived research program, including a proposed course of study and an intellectual justification of their proposed study. Research programs must be interdisciplinary, integrating methodological or theoretical approaches from at least three academic disciplines (departments or programs). Interdisciplinary work may be comparative, historical, regional, thematic, or problem-focused. The research program should not replicate an existing major. The purpose of the ISF major is to allow undergraduates to combine work across disciplines in courses and with faculty where no other structured program exists. Finally, the research program must be feasible, and the senior thesis must answer a manageable research question in a semester's hard work (ISF 190). Each student's proposed research program is discussed with and approved by a faculty adviser to assure feasibility, but the final responsibility is the student's.

The nature of the major requires repeated elaboration of the proposed research program, course of study, and senior thesis that best combine students' individual research interests and the ISF program goals. Students are assigned an adviser upon acceptance into the major, although faculty members outside ISF may serve as advisers when appropriate, as approved by the ISF director.

Honors Program

All honors students enroll in the senior thesis seminar with other majors (ISF 190).  Students seeking honors must identify and seek out senate faculty members from other departments, ideally members of the ISF Faculty Advisory Board, to serve as second readers. Students must then let their ISF 190 instructor know that they intend to pursue honors in the major, and will give the name of their second reader to the ISF 190 instructor. Their grades in ISF 190 will be constituted by an average of grades assigned by the ISF 190 Instructor and the second readers.

Students eligible for honors must have an overall grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.6, including grades in ISF courses, at the beginning of the semester in which they enroll in ISF 190. Students in the honors option will be nominated for a degree of honors (honors, high honors, highest honors) by the ISF instructor, the second reader, or another ladder faculty member. The assessment of the degree of honors will be made by an ISF Honors Committee consisting of no fewer than two teaching faculty of the ISF Program and two academic senate members under the oversight of the ISF director. The ISF Honors Committee will use the criteria of scholarly originality, methodological sophistication (including interdisciplinarity), the quality of source interpretation, and excellence in writing and argumentation to adjudicate the degree of honors to be conferred. To allow adequate time for the Honors Committee to assess and review the senior honors theses, students seeking honors will be required to turn in their final senior theses at the beginning of the Reading/Review/Recitation Week.

Minor Program

There is no minor program in Interdisciplinary Studies.

Visit Program Website

Major Requirements

In addition to the University, campus, and college requirements, listed on the College Requirements tab, students must fulfill the below requirements specific to their major program.

General Guidelines

  1. All courses taken to fulfill the major requirements below must be taken for graded credit, other than courses listed which are offered on a Pass/No Pass basis only. Other exceptions to this requirement are noted as applicable.
  2. No more than one upper division course may be used to simultaneously fulfill requirements for a student's major and minor programs, with the exception of minors offered outside of the College of Letters & Science.
  3. A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 must be maintained in both upper and lower division courses used to fulfill the major requirements.

For information regarding residence requirements and unit requirements, please see the College Requirements tab.

Summary of Major Requirements

Prerequisites
One "Disciplines" and one "World Regions" course
Upper Division Requirements
Course of Study: Minimum six courses, 20 units
Core Methodology: Two courses
Interdisciplinary Research Methods: One course
Senior Thesis: One course

The ISF prerequisite requirement consists of two courses, one on the Disciplines, and the other on World Regions. Both courses need to be taken for a B- or better. Courses fulfilling this prerequisite are listed below. A prospective major can apply to the major by filling out an application after they have completed their first course (with a B- or better) and are currently enrolled in their second required course; their final acceptance into the program will be contingent on receiving a grade of B- or better in the second course. 

Disciplines

Students must take one of the following introductory courses (or their recognized equivalent, if transfer students):

ANTHRO 3Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology4
DEV STD C10Course Not Available4
ECON 1Introduction to Economics4
ECON 2Introduction to Economics--Lecture Format4
EDUC 190Critical Studies in Education4
GEOG 10Worldings - Regions, Peoples and States4
PHILOS 3The Nature of Mind4
POL SCI 2Introduction to Comparative Politics4
POL SCI 4Introduction to Political Theory4
POL SCI 5Introduction to International Relations4
PSYCH 1General Psychology3
PUB POL 101Introduction to Public Policy Analysis4
RHETOR 10Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Analysis of Argument4
SOCIOL 1Introduction to Sociology4

World Regions

Students must take one of the following lower division courses (or their recognized equivalent, if transfer students):

AFRICAM 4AAfrica: History and Culture4
AFRICAM 4BAfrica: History and Culture4
CHINESE 7AIntroduction to Premodern Chinese Literature and Culture4
CHINESE 7BIntroduction to Modern Chinese Literature and Culture4
CLASSIC 10AIntroduction to Greek Civilization4
CLASSIC 10BIntroduction to Roman Civilization4
HISTART 11Introduction to Western Art: Renaissance to the Present4
HISTORY 2Comparative World History4
HISTORY 4AOrigins of Western Civilization: The Ancient Mediterranean World4
HISTORY 4BOrigins of Western Civilization: Medieval Europe4
HISTORY 5European Civilization from the Renaissance to the Present4
HISTORY 6AHistory of China: Origins to the Mongol Conquest4
HISTORY 6BIntroduction to Chinese History from the Mongols to Mao4
HISTORY 8ALatin American History: Becoming Latin America, 1492 to 18244
HISTORY 8BLatin American History: Modern Latin America4
HISTORY 10African History4
HISTORY 11India4
HISTORY 12The Middle East4
HISTORY 14Introduction to the History of Japan4
IAS 45Survey of World History4
JAPAN 7AIntroduction to Premodern Japanese Literature and Culture4
JAPAN 7BIntroduction to Modern Japanese Literature and Culture4
S ASIAN 1ACourse Not Available4
S ASIAN 1BCourse Not Available4
SEASIAN 10AIntroduction to the Civilization of Southeast Asia4
SEASIAN 10BIntroduction to the Civilization of Southeast Asia4

A Committee of Faculty Advisers will have the discretion, in unusual cases, of accepting applications to the ISF program from students who have completed, with a minimum B- grade, upper division courses that have adequately prepared them for their designated research program and that fulfill the spirit of the prerequisite requirements of disciplinary and regional preparation for the major. Finally, additional courses can be added to each of the two lists as deemed appropriate by the director and the faculty advisory board.

For transfer students, it is strongly recommended that this requirement be completed before enrolling at Berkeley. Transfer students must submit syllabi of courses already taken to their ISF faculty adviser for approval. Both prerequisite courses must be taken for a letter grade. 

Note that Academic Senate regulations stipulate that students must have a minimum grade point average of 2.0 before declaring any major in the College of Letters & Science and are required to declare a major by the time they have each completed 60 units.

Upper Division Requirement: Course of Study

Select a minimum of 20 upper division units (at least six courses) drawn from at least three fields or disciplines. Upon consent of an adviser, courses outside of the College of Letters & Science may be accepted when relevant, e.g., courses in Social Welfare, Journalism, Public Policy, City Planning, Business Administration, or Architecture. (For further information, please see Research Fields on the program's website.) Upon approval from an ISF faculty adviser, a student may include one technical or natural science course as part of their course of study.

Upper Division Requirement: Core Methodology Courses

These courses provide an introduction to interdisciplinary theories and methodologies in the social sciences and the humanities.

ISF 100AIntroduction to Social Theory and Cultural Analysis4
Select one of the following:
ISF 100BInterdisciplinary Theories of the Self and Identity4
ISF 100CLanguage and Identity4
ISF 100DIntroduction to Technology, Society, and Culture4
ISF 100EThe Globalization of Rights, Values, and Laws in the 21st Century4
ISF 100FTheorizing Modern Capitalism: Controversies and Interpretations4
ISF 100GIntroduction to Science, Society, and Ethics4
ISF C100GIntroduction to Science, Technology, and Society4
ISF 100HIntroduction to Media and International Relations4
ISF 100IConsumer Society and Culture4
ISF 100JThe Social Life of Computing4
ISF 100KHEALTH AND DEVELOPMENT4

Upper Division Requirement: Interdisciplinary Research Methods

ISF 189Introduction to Interdisciplinary Research Methods4

Upper Division Requirement: Senior Thesis

For further details on the requirements for the thesis, including the creative thesis option, please see the program's website.

ISF 190Senior Thesis4

College Requirements

Undergraduate students must fulfill the following requirements in addition to those required by their major program.

For detailed lists of courses that fulfill college requirements, please review the College of Letters & Sciences page in this Guide. For College advising appointments, please visit the L&S Advising Pages. 

University of California Requirements

Entry Level Writing

All students who will enter the University of California as freshmen must demonstrate their command of the English language by fulfilling the Entry Level Writing requirement. Fulfillment of this requirement is also a prerequisite to enrollment in all reading and composition courses at UC Berkeley. 

American History and American Institutions

The American History and Institutions requirements are based on the principle that a US resident graduated from an American university, should have an understanding of the history and governmental institutions of the United States.

Berkeley Campus Requirement

American Cultures

All undergraduate students at Cal need to take and pass this course in order to graduate. The requirement offers an exciting intellectual environment centered on the study of race, ethnicity and culture of the United States. AC courses offer students opportunities to be part of research-led, highly accomplished teaching environments, grappling with the complexity of American Culture.

College of Letters & Science Essential Skills Requirements

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning requirement is designed to ensure that students graduate with basic understanding and competency in math, statistics, or computer science. The requirement may be satisfied by exam or by taking an approved course.

Foreign Language

The Foreign Language requirement may be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency in reading comprehension, writing, and conversation in a foreign language equivalent to the second semester college level, either by passing an exam or by completing approved course work.

Reading and Composition

In order to provide a solid foundation in reading, writing, and critical thinking the College requires two semesters of lower division work in composition in sequence. Students must complete parts A & B reading and composition courses by the end of their second semester and a second-level course by the end of their fourth semester.

College of Letters & Science 7 Course Breadth Requirements

Breadth Requirements

The undergraduate breadth requirements provide Berkeley students with a rich and varied educational experience outside of their major program. As the foundation of a liberal arts education, breadth courses give students a view into the intellectual life of the University while introducing them to a multitude of perspectives and approaches to research and scholarship. Engaging students in new disciplines and with peers from other majors, the breadth experience strengthens interdisciplinary connections and context that prepares Berkeley graduates to understand and solve the complex issues of their day.

Unit Requirements

  • 120 total units

  • Of the 120 units, 36 must be upper division units

  • Of the 36 upper division units, 6 must be taken in courses offered outside your major department
Residence Requirements

For units to be considered in "residence," you must be registered in courses on the Berkeley campus as a student in the College of Letters & Science. Most students automatically fulfill the residence requirement by attending classes here for four years. In general, there is no need to be concerned about this requirement, unless you go abroad for a semester or year or want to take courses at another institution or through UC Extension during your senior year. In these cases, you should make an appointment to meet an adviser to determine how you can meet the Senior Residence Requirement.

Note: Courses taken through UC Extension do not count toward residence.

Senior Residence Requirement

After you become a senior (with 90 semester units earned toward your BA degree), you must complete at least 24 of the remaining 30 units in residence in at least two semesters. To count as residence, a semester must consist of at least 6 passed units. Intercampus Visitor, EAP, and UC Berkeley-Washington Program (UCDC) units are excluded.

You may use a Berkeley Summer Session to satisfy one semester of the Senior Residence requirement, provided that you successfully complete 6 units of course work in the Summer Session and that you have been enrolled previously in the college.

Modified Senior Residence Requirement

Participants in the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP), Berkeley Summer Abroad, or the UC Berkeley Washington Program (UCDC) may meet a Modified Senior Residence requirement by completing 24 (excluding EAP) of their final 60 semester units in residence. At least 12 of these 24 units must be completed after you have completed 90 units.

Upper Division Residence Requirement

You must complete in residence a minimum of 18 units of upper division courses (excluding UCEAP units), 12 of which must satisfy the requirements for your major.

Student Learning Goals

Mission

The Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major (ISF) is a unique major on campus in that it requires students to engage in a major research project. This enables them not only to engage in qualitative and/or quantitative research but also to organize, synthesize, and communicate—in oral and written form—relevant data and results against the background of evolving theories and key concepts in the social sciences and/or humanities. As student research interests change in relation to larger patterns of social, cultural, and technological transformations, the department carefully monitors existing methodological courses to allow for ongoing flexibility with regard to innovative key concepts and new theoretical tools.

Learning Goals for the Major

  1. Develop strong interdisciplinary research skills by creating a course of study in the context of which students can explore new phenomena, problems, themes, and issues pertaining to larger social, cultural, technological, and historical transformations.
    • Develop research question against the background of at least three disciplinary fields.
    • Learn to develop a research proposal, which integrates multilingual assets and/or multicultural capacities and/or fieldwork experiences or internships.
    • Gain excellent skills to access library services.
    • Develop structure of research thesis, argument, and bibliography.
    • Gain historical and geographical knowledge of relevance to the research project.
    • Link undergraduate research interests to post-graduation plans for graduate school and/or professional life.
  2. Acquire awareness of methodological approaches in the social sciences and/or humanities in order to apply interdisciplinary methods and key concepts to the study and analysis of a particular social or cultural phenomenon under conditions of larger social and global transformations.
    • Learn about the most important theoretical traditions of the transatlantic social sciences and/or humanities.
    • Study central concepts embedded in the dominant social science methodologies and or humanities methodologies.
    • Explore new social theories emerging from the larger context of global and technological transformations.
    • Participate in the expansion of conceptual innovation and creativity through the exploratory formation of new concepts with the capacity to empirically grasp new social and technological phenomena.
  3. Expand critical reading, thinking, analytical, and technological skills acquired in upper division courses through their application in the context of the research project.
    • Explore extent, relevance, and limits of traditional conceptual apparatuses to ongoing undergraduate research project.
    • Evaluate quality of arguments, ideas, and concepts in support of the thesis.
    • Translate ideas and concepts into a variety of environments in relation to the thesis.
    • Pursue field work abroad if applicable.
    • Integration of technological innovations, networks, and the internet in the expansion of critical acquisition of knowledge in a global, informational, and networked world.
  4. Demonstrate organizational, argumentative, multilingual, and communicative skills through successful design, structuration, execution, and presentation of a major interdisciplinary research project.
    • Organization of research data, argument, and theoretical framework.
    • Integration of assets and capacities in the research project.
    • Communicate research results on the basis of multimedia technologies.
    • Preparation of thesis in print media.

Advising

Advising Hours

263 Evans Hall
Monday through Friday, 9 to 11:45 a.m. and 1:45 to 5:30 p.m.

Courses

Interdisciplinary Studies

Faculty and Instructors

Faculty

Peter Sahlins, Professor. Early modern France, animal-human relations, immigration, citizenship and nationality in pre-modern Europe.
Research Profile

Lecturers

Rakesh Bhandari, Lecturer. Classical Social Theory's Images of Asia, The Juridical Aspects of Unfree Labor Relations, The Role of Luxury Consumption in Economic Growth, The Nature and Limits of Keynesian Intervention, The Discourses of Social Darwinism.

Shreeharsh Kelkar, Lecturer. History and anthropology of computing, work, and expertise in the 20th century.

Amm Quamruzzaman, Lecturer. Healthcare migration, health and development, technology and development, globalization and global inequality, ethnic conflict and state formation in Africa, Islamist and ethno-nationalist armed movements, political trust, and human (in)security in the contemporary world.

Fang Xu, Lecturer. Social inequality, language and cultural identity, globalization, displacement, and language endangerment.

Contact Information

Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major Program

263 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-643-7691

isf@berkeley.edu

Visit Program Website

Program Director

Peter Sahlins, PhD (Department of History)

265 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-664-4315

sahlins@berkeley.edu

Program Associate Director

Rakesh Bhandari, PhD

267 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-664-4420

bhandari@berkeley.edu

Academic Adviser

Patrick Civello, MS

263 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-643-7691

isf@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Shreeharsh Kelkar, PhD

269 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-0660

skelkar@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Gary Wren, PhD

238 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-2087

gwren@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Fang Xu, PhD

269 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-0660

fangxu@berkeley.edu

Faculty Adviser

Amm Quamruzzaman, PhD

275 Evans Hall

Phone: 510-642-1344

aquamruzzaman@berkeley.edu

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