What Is Liberal Studies?

Learning Beyond the Boundaries

At the core of Liberal Studies is the idea that interdisciplinary learning is central to an individual’s continuing intellectual growth and capacity for critical thought. Because this sort of learning does not stop at the boundaries of particular academic disciplines, Graduate Liberal Studies (GLS) programs offer a wide range of courses not available in traditional, discipline-bound graduate programs. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, students explore diverse subjects and apply fresh perspectives from a variety of fields.

The result is a deeply satisfying educational experience that expands students’ intellectual range, promotes openness to new ideas and appreciation of differences, stimulates the application of academics to personal and professional lives, and encourages a lifelong commitment to learning and free inquiry.

What's So Liberal About Liberal Studies?

The first Graduate Liberal Studies programs were established in the mid-twentieth century as part of an effort to make lifelong learning accessible to a broad range of working people.  However, the ideal underlying Liberal Studies is much older – and has little to do with the contemporary political sense of the word “liberal.”  This concept is also found in the term “liberal arts,” which originally meant the skills and knowledge required to participate fully in the world as a free citizen.  But while “liberal arts” is typically used nowadays to identify a particular content (the disciplines of the arts and humanities), Liberal Studies refers to a more generalist interdisciplinary approach to knowledge that can encompass the arts, humanities and sciences. 

In other words, what defines Liberal Studies is not so much a particular body of knowledge as it is a more integrative approach to the construction of knowledge.  It is about addressing issues not only within traditional fields and disciplines, but exploring in between those fields, around them and sometimes even beyond them into territory that is not yet well-cultivated.  It is “liberal,” then, in the sense of representing a generous, unrestricted way of thinking that is not limited by the disciplinary boundaries that have characterized modern academia. 

This Liberal Studies ideal is possible only when there is a broad diversity of backgrounds, experiences, beliefs and opinions.  That is what makes our seminar discussions so rich and interesting.