Photo credits:
Sarah Thorén

SCAS News - 19 August, 2019

Reflections by a Fellow - Susanne A. Wengle

My Year at SCAS - the Liberal Arts Education That I Never Had

“I am a social scientist with broad interests. These interests have led me to search for answers in
many places and opened the way to explore new angles of established problems. Broad interests
have also at times seemed like an encumbrance, since social science has increasingly valued
specialization. Specialization is of course vital and necessary, but for me personally, it has never
eclipsed the appeal of fields of inquiry that are not “mine.” I never felt that accounts by scholars
trained in other fields were somehow not my concern. Perhaps even the opposite. With different
questions, approaches, axiomatic assumptions and methods, I find it fascinating to learn more about
how other fields approach learning and research.

At SCAS, broad interests and interdisciplinary curiosity have been rewarded throughout my year-long
stay; on a daily basis at lunches and on a weekly basis at SCAS seminars. We had sociologists, histo-
rians, an archeologist, biologists, linguists, and scholars of literature, law and religion in our cohort.
Each fellow had a distinct intellectual project, we all explored different problems and had different
tools to answer them. However, we also shared many things and we were all committed to listening
and learning from each other. By bringing us together SCAS establishes a space where specialization
is not the only value. It is a unique space where new ideas are forged about the past, current and the
future of the world we live in through exchanges and engagement. I realized at some point after a
weekly seminar by a SCAS fellow in the humanities that followed a SCAS seminar by a biologist that
the experience in some ways resembles the education at a liberal arts college – an experience I somehow
missed, given my training at universities that value specialization more than the combination of disparate
disciplinary knowledge.

The SCAS experiment succeeds and the institute thrives because it manages to bring together scholars
who are both committed to advancing knowledge in their own fields, but also to sustained and serious
engagement with other fellows whose work is on the face of it entirely unrelated. The kind of learning
that happens here is invaluable for each, and for all of us. ”

Susanne A. Wengle is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, IN. She was a
Fellow in residence at SCAS in the academic year 2018-19.

Read more about Susanne A. Wengle >>