Divisional Foundations | Duke Kunshan University

Divisional Foundations

Divisional areas of knowledge organize the faculty and the curriculum – Natural Sciences; Social Sciences; and Arts and Humanities – rather than traditional majors or departments. Each division establishes its own required foundation courses and provides options for completing advanced work within and across the divisions. 

  • In the humanities and arts, rather than start with a traditional major like philosophy or religion, integrated, interdisciplinary studies allow students to investigate, say, ethics broadly— perhaps in terms of global health or Enlightenment ethics of rights and autonomy as it confronts ethics that emphasize tradition, religion and community. Many students will find their passion in such issues first and only afterwards think about what disciplinary approach is best suited for them as an approach to their passion.  
  • Integrated, interdisciplinary studies in social science reflect the ways in which research, teaching and external engagement are increasingly practiced in these areas. These communities structure knowledge in a way that anticipates the intellectual trajectory of these fields, capturing the emerging convergence in methodological toolkits, analytical frameworks and thematic questions.  They organize a students’ education around the way scholars and practitioners actually work and think about their fields. 
  • In the natural sciences, students preparing for careers must develop a deep understanding of the basic concepts and techniques relevant to their subfield.  At the same time, it is not necessary or even possible to anticipate precisely which subfield the student will need to know or that the relevant knowledge will reside within the canon of a traditional discipline.  The goal is for students to develop a sense of what counts as an explanation of a natural phenomenon, along with a sense of the scope of phenomena that can be (or have been) explained.  This goal is best met by communities that span several traditional disciplines, rather than diving as deeply as possible into just one. 

Divisional Foundation Courses (8 to 28 credits depending on division) provide opportunities to develop knowledge and skills essential to advanced work in each division. Each set of Divisional Foundation courses also provide instruction and guided practice in specialized communication skills for that division. The following courses are required within the identified divisions:

Humanities and Arts

  • The Art of Interpretation 1: Written Texts: Training in close reading and analysis of text is a foundational skill in the humanities, whether the text is literary or documentary. This course combines practical training in close reading of a variety of texts with theoretically informed strategies of analysis. The course focuses both on reading and analysis of literary texts, and on unpacking documents (official, unofficial, personal) with a view to historical method.
  • The Art of Interpretation II: Images and Sound: This class trains students to develop skill and sophistication in viewing and analysis of images, including art objects, film, and the new media; and in sound studies, including sonic culture, film music, and traditional musical arts. The goal is audiovisual literacy – the creation and interpretation of sound and image that has become central to the ways we experience and understand the world. 

Social Science

  • Introduction to Research Methods: This course provides students with an understanding of research designs and research methods used in the social sciences. Students will learn about the scientific method, research methods and design, measurement, and ethical issues. Topics include quantitative and qualitative approaches, as well as mixed methods.
  • Foundational Questions in Social Science: People everywhere ponder and debate fundamental questions: What does it mean to be human? How is society to be ordered? What is a moral life? Our ancestors asked such questions as well: it is likely that those questions lie at the origins of humanity itself. They also provide the foundations for much of the most important research in the social sciences today. This course examines the ways in which social scientists from a diversity of disciplines approach these fundamental questions. Study material for the course will include foundational texts from across the social sciences, as well as cutting-edge research from the present day. This course will not attempt to answer these vast questions, or provide neat solutions for students: rather, we want to excite students about the social sciences and whet their appetites for further study.

Natural and Applied Sciences

  • Mathematical Foundations 1 & 2: These two courses introduce fundamental concepts of calculus, probability and computational sciences applicable to inquiry across the natural sciences.  MF1 is an introduction to differential and integral calculus while MF2 covers probability and statistics with an emphasis on concepts relevant for the analysis of complex data sets.  Both courses include problem sets with applications to physics, chemistry and biology. 
  • Integrated Science 1 & 2: This two-course sequence integrates physics, chemistry and biology, introducing the relevant concepts needed for understanding a variety of interdisciplinary applications.  The themes of energy and emergent phenomena highlight the connections between the traditional sciences along with the differences in the types of phenomena they seek to describe.  The laboratories included in these courses add an experiential learning component.
  • Integrated Science 3 & 4: These two courses focus on fundamental phenomena relevant for understanding the world of our immediate experience.  IS3 emphasizes the physics and chemistry concepts of oscillating systems, waves, and fields.  IS4 has a chemistry/biology emphasis, with physics brought to bear as needed.  IS3 and IS4 emphasize the multiple connections between physics, biology and chemistry, thus providing an integrated scientific perspective that students can carry forward into their areas of specialization.
  • Scientific Writing and Presentations: The Integrated Sciences 3 & 4 courses have linked Scientific Writing and Presentations courses that provide instruction and practice in scientific communications using the laboratory course content.