Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. August 2004

1.6. The Unifying Method of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences: The Method of Transdisciplinarity
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Josephine Papst (Graz)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Transdisciplinarity and the Quest for a Tomorrow

Karen-Claire Voss (Department of English Literature, Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey)



In this paper I will discuss what I think is the main problem associated with attempts to use transdisciplinarity and will touch on the differences between transdisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity, with which the former is often confused. I will then go on to examine some of its implications for traditional methodology and will continue by exploring some of the possibilities that it affords. I will also devote some time to considering the implications of Basarab Nicolescu's characterization of transdisciplinarity as a project for the future. Finally, I will close by suggesting some potentially fruitful ways of utilizing the transdisciplinary approach in the social sciences and in the humanities.


When I first discovered the transdisciplinary approach through an exceedingly fortuitous encounter with Basarab Nicolescu, now over ten years ago, it was as if I had finally come home. Up until that point, in my work as a historian of religions I had focused on problems arising from conceptual dualism, and no matter what my topic was, always ended up returning to that issue, an issue that I consider to be the most pressing intellectual and anthropological problem facing us today. For example, when I studied alchemy I was most concerned with everything related to the coincidence of opposites and the problem faced by every alchemist: namely, making a whole from out of parts. When I explored problems in mysticism, I grappled with the conflict that is generally believed to exist between Eros and agape, and the perception, which in my view is erroneous, that there exists some unbridgeable ontological gap between that which we call divine and the human. When I turned to issues relating to women in religion and culture I faced this dualism once again. Since mind was considered superior to body, and since women are considered to be more closely tied to (or even identified with) body, a plethora of negative attitudes and behaviors has resulted. We call this "patriarchy" and have been suffering its effects now for thousands of years. And so it went, until that fateful encounter with the living ideas that constitute transdisciplinarity. I soon realized that the transdisciplinary approach enables the resolution of conflicts arising from conceptual dualism (conflicts that are played out on a very deep level on account of the fact that dualistic concepts are often believed to reflect ontology) while celebrating complexity and preserving difference, allowing us to distinguish one thing from another, and even value one thing more than another, without thrusting us into the realm of cheap relativism. Moreover, transdisciplinarity does not push us into a transcendence that is somehow unrelated and superior to that which it transcends. Instead, what transdisciplinarity does is encompass oppositions while simultaneously going beyond them. There is a world of difference.

Thus, the transdisciplinary approach provides us with a viable alternative to conceptual dualism and even provides an alternative to thinking in terms of Hegelian dialectic and synthesis (which itself is problematic for reasons I cannot go into here, except to note that Hegel's thought is also irrevocably bound up with conceptual dualism and binary logic and ultimately cannot escape from this, notwithstanding his solution of synthesis, which is ultimately only an apparent solution(1)). As Basarab Nicolescu writes:

Transdisciplinarity transgresses the duality of opposing binary pairs: subject/ object, subjectivity/objectivity, matter/consciousness, nature/divine, simplicity/complexity, reductionism/holism, diversity/unity. This duality is transgressed by the open unity that encompasses both the universe and the human being.(2)

In this paper I want to explore what I think is the main problem one must confront when attempting to use a transdisciplinary approach and continue by exploring some of the possibilities that it affords. At the outset I must say that in my view, the possibilities far outweigh any problems that might arise and that I advocate transdisciplinarity without reservation. For that reason, most of what follows is devoted to exploring those possibilities.


Transdisciplinarity is Not Only a Method

Those not yet familiar with transdisciplinarity may come to it with the idea that it is yet one more highly-touted "new" method, one in a long line of new methods. As such, they are likely to think of it as a fad, one that will have a greater or lesser effect on a variety of disciplines, but that will sooner or later fade into oblivion, only to be evoked by a historian of ideas at some future date. However, if we regard transdisciplinarity simply as one method among others we will miss its importance. I remember, for example, when I was a young graduate student in the first flush of enthusiasm for the "general systems approach." This seemed to me then the last word and I read all the Gregory Bateson, Heinz von Foerster and Clifford Geertz (along with a bit of Ken Wilber, which somehow seemed to fit in very well) I could lay my hands on. As I recall, when one of my professors was writing a letter of recommendation for me while I was seeking admission to various doctoral programs he somewhat excitedly explained that he gathered I was actually contemplating trying to establish a new subfield of religious studies, one that would be based on the principles of general systems theory. My infatuation with conceptual spectrums, "thick description," feedback loops, complexity per se, and such lasted two, maybe three years, but then I began to see their limitations and went in search of greener methodological pastures. That search ended when I encountered transdisciplinarity and found that it resolved the problems of conceptual dualism that I had been grappling with for years.

Transdisciplinarity is not really a method in so far as referring to it as a method implies that one is still working within a binary framework of mechanistic causality. In such a framework one chooses the methodology one uses in much the same way as a carpenter chooses the right tool for a job - a hammer for this, a chisel for that, a screwdriver or saw for something else. In this case we are dealing with three essentially discrete, non-interacting entities: we have the researcher, the tool he or she is using (i.e., the method), and the phenomenon it is being applied to. Now, in fields like the social sciences and the humanities one can and certainly should employ different methods from a variety of disciplines as Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty has advocated because only a plurality of methods is able to begin to "get at" the multiple levels, the "palimpsest"(3) of meanings that is inherent in every phenomenon. Transdisciplinarity, however, is something other than a method. Transdisciplinarity is an attitude, an approach - to everything.


Implications of Transdisciplinarity for Traditional Methodology

Since my training was in history of religions with a specialization in esotericism I have garnered much of what I am going to say here from that experience. As an undergraduate and master's student I had become accustomed to being praised and encouraged as I struggled to assimilate more and more knowledge. I was a true philosopher, the kind of student who became drunk on ideas and tried to push them to their limits; one of my professors once described me as a "young woman with a gluttonous hunger for ideas," and she was right. It was something of a shock therefore when I began doctoral work in a program at a school in Berkeley, California and was almost immediately plunged into what then seemed to me to be a veritable nightmare of methodological proscriptions. Whereas my enthusiasm for learning and my tendency to make connections between apparently disparate things (for example, the work I did on the myths of Isis and Mary) had previously occasioned enthusiastic encouragement from my professors, now this same tendency was getting me into trouble. One of my fellow students told me that after a few more years in graduate school my enthusiasm would be drummed out of me and I would begin to sober up. My faculty advisor allowed me to pass my orals, but she contrived things so that the notation "Passed with distinction" was denied me on account of the fact that what I had presented on methodology must not, in her view, ever again be repeated.(4) "Not ever," she said. This was followed by the extreme consternation caused by my dissertation proposal in which I explained that I would investigate what I called "embodiment" in the life and work of an obscure French duchess who was linked to freemasonry and mesmerism and which used the word "ontology," two concepts which caused no end of problems. I was spending the year in France in order to do doctoral research and my graduate school required that I fly back to California, even though I had told them I could ill afford it, in order to defend my proposal. After undergoing a grilling that took place in a conference room and reminded me not a little of an Inquisition, my proposal was still only "provisionally" accepted and the sticking points remained my insistence on using the term "embodiment," maintaining that this had "ontological" implications, as well as my wanting to approach the work in a primarily hermeneutical way. My problems with methodology reached a zenith when I had a semi-public "methodological falling out" (the phrase I have ever since used to refer to it) with my then academic mentor (who happens to be the reigning giant in my field, a scholar who knows all the facts about everything). During those years, though, I gradually began to move from sheer terror of what might happen to my academic "career" to increasingly outspoken insistence that doing hermeneutics was not only inevitable, but necessary and even desirable (and developing fairly elaborate theoretical articulations of why this was the case) while he was becoming ever more insistent that the empirical method was the sole method for doing legitimate scholarship, or at least the sole method for doing truly significant scholarship. The question of the meaning of a phenomenon was a dangerous issue since it involved subjectivity, something that was to be avoided at all costs.

The transdisciplinary approach impacts traditional methodology in many ways. It allows us enormous freedom in terms of how we approach our research and in terms of the fact that it enables us to include things from any field which we deem related to the object of our study. I will discuss some specific examples of this below, in the section about how to apply the transdisciplinary approach. As already noted, when one approaches a research problem in a transdisciplinary way, one is immediately afforded a much wider field of exploration than is traditionally the case. For example, an anthropologist might very well do work that is informed by findings and methods from art history, literature and religious studies.(5) Or a scientist can explore archaeological studies dealing with the invention of hunting bows while trying to understand how instrumental music developed because the principles on which bows operate probably helped us construct the first stringed instruments.(6) This is the kind of thing that can lead to a conflation of transdisciplinarity with interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinary approaches simply mean that one uses a variety of methods, from a variety of fields and applies them to a variety of data. Nicolescu has provided a useful taxonomy for understanding interdisciplinarity in terms of three degrees: 1) a degree of application; an epistemological degree; and finally a degree of the generation of new disciplines.(7) In contrast, the transdisciplinary approach encompasses various fields, just as the interdisciplinary approach, but then moves across them, and finally, beyond them. It is this space of the "beyond" that causes many of the problems people have with transdisciplinarity which leads us to consider the greatest impact that transdisciplinarity has. That impact lies in the way that it requires us to include the Subject (the hitherto excluded middle) in our research. It is this that causes the greatest consternation, occasions the most controversy, and is the most threatening. Allow me to explain.

One reason that it is not appropriate to think of transdisciplinarity as being merely a method is because transdisciplinarity entails a whole new approach, not only to problems in a particular discipline, but to Reality itself. Moreover, the epistemology of transdisciplinarity is informed by that of quantum physics and one thing this means is an acceptance of the fact that Reality is comprised of more than just one level.(8) One also has to understand that since the various levels of Reality are governed by different laws and different fundamental concepts, those associated with the level of Reality to which we are accustomed to dealing with (classical, binary logic and mechanistic causality are two examples) are not necessarily operative on all the other levels. In a paper that Basarab Nicolescu and I wrote in 1995 we explained that:

By the term 'reality' we mean everything which resists our representations, descriptions, images, experiences, or experiments. By the term 'level' we mean a group of systems which is invariant under the action of certain laws. Our current epistemology is based on classical logic which itself is founded on three postulates: 1) The axiom of identity: A is A. 2) The axiom of non-contradiction: A is not non-A. 3) The axiom of the excluded middle: there exists no third term T (T = included middle) which is at the same time A and non-A.

There are three postulates of modern science: 1. The existence of universal laws with a mathematical character. 2. The discovery of these laws by scientific experiment. 3. The perfect replicability of experimental results. The methodology of modern science is silent on the topic of logic. The entire history of pre-quantum physics shows that this methodology can be adapted to binary logic. However, the scientific ideology began to fall apart at the birth of quantum physics, with the discovery of a level of reality that clearly differs from our own; in order to be understood, this level seemed to demand a threefold logic, that of the included middle. In fact, it can be said that the quantum revolution truly consists in the emergence of the included middle as a result of the study of Nature. More precisely, quantum mechanics and quantum physics have given rise to experimental and theoretical evidence for pairs of mutually exclusive contradictory terms (A and non-A). Here are some examples: wave and corpuscle, continuity and discontinuity, separability and non-separability, local causality and global causality, autonomy and constraint, visible and invisible, manifest and non-manifest, symmetry and breaking of symmetry, time and non-time, reversibility and irreversibility of time. Returning to the notion of levels of reality, two levels of reality are different if, while passing from one to the other, there is a rupture of laws and fundamental concepts (such as that of causality). A clear example is that of the microphysical level and the macrophysical level. If one remains at a single level of reality, all manifestation appears as a struggle between two contradictory elements (for example: wave and corpuscle, visible and invisible; here we may add empirical and meta-empirical, scientific and hermeneutic, etc.) like links in an endless chain along a horizontal plane. The third point, which is that of the T-state, occurs at another level of reality, on which that which appears separate (wave and corpuscle, visible and invisible, empirical and meta-empirical, scientific and hermeneutic, etc.) is in fact unified (quanton) and that which is contradictory is perceived as non-contradictory."(9)

Then we added something that was especially relevant since the paper was arguing for a change in the methodology used in the field of esotericism. Since the transdisciplinary approach takes account of the epistemological implications of the findings of quantum physics, if we accept transdisciplinarity as a paradigm we know that every scholar (and for that matter, every human being) necessarily

plays the role of translator, mediator from one language to the other, from one logic to the other, from one level to the other. By virtue of our constitution, a human being belongs to many levels of reality. Now, the locus off interplay between levels is the macrocosmic level; the vantage point from which this relation can be seen is that of the human being, the subject. However, up to this point, the subject has been the excluded middle. It is time to include the subject. More precisely, in fact, rather than including something which is not present, we must acknowledge what is already present; what in fact has never really been absent."(10)

Obviously, if scholars working in the humanities and the social sciences begin to include the Subject we will have to abandon the idea that to do scientific scholarship means being objective in terms of the pre-quantum physics view of what constitutes objectivity. We will also have to abandon the idea of Reality as being comprised of only one level, the level governed by mechanistic causality and linear cause/effect relations. That will mean that Jacques DeLors understanding of education as something comprised of "four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be"(11) will be taken seriously, thereby opening the way to allow things like nuance and emotion and passion into our research. Imagine if you will, what a typical social science article would read like if such things were inside. We would once again accord the university its original meaning - the university is a place devoted to the study of the universal.(12) Far from being a human conceptual construct, as some postmodernists would have it, Nature; i.e., the universe, emerges from complex, living systems, i.e., consciousness, and we human beings emerge from it. The universe is objectively prior to our own individual, space/time beings, prior to the beings who, among other things, busy themselves with making conceptual constructs of this or of that the implications are enormous. Science has also shown us that the universe is indeed "multi-leveled." Given the nature of the human constitution, not only are we able to "translate" between levels, we do in fact partici pate in both the macro level and the quantum level. By including the middle in what we study we acknowledge the fact of the reality of the universe; thereby the universe, hitherto the object of our study, becomes the subject. By including the subject in what we study we also acknowledge the fact that human beings are a part of the universe (i.e., a part of Nature), and at the same time that we are the locus of the transmission of knowledge about the networks which link the various systems together on different levels.

In sum, three things must be kept in mind. First, transdisciplinarity can certainly give rise to methods, but it itself is not a method; rather, it is an approach. This distinction is critically important. Secondly, a transdisciplinary researcher is affected by the object of his or her study in ways that lie outside the current paradigm of what constitutes objective, empirical research. And thus, thirdly, to use the transdisciplinary approach inevitably entails changes in the person using it and, depending on the extent to which it is adopted, these changes can be very profound indeed. As Nicolescu pointed out, while recalling an observation made by Jacques Robin, "lived transdisciplinarity can lead us not only to a change in the way we think but also in the ways that we behave."(13)


Emergent Properties: Transdisciplinarity as a Project for the Future

In the Preface to his Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, Basarab Nicolescu writes: "I dedicate this manifesto to all the men and women who still have faith, in spite of everything and against all odds - especially all dogma and all ideology - in the quest for a tomorrow."(14) Since I count myself among that number, it seemed appropriate to borrow from what he said for the title of this paper.

The reason that transdisciplinarity can play a major role in this "quest for a tomorrow," this project for the future, is that everything related to it is characterized by the quality of emergence. To take up the idea of emergence then, we say that a system has emergent properties when we observe things that are more than the sum of the properties of the system's parts. It is clear that this is precisely what happens everywhere the transdisciplinary approach is used. Whenever a researcher goes about his/her work with a transdisciplinary attitude, this results in the manifestation (perhaps it is more precise to say the actualization) of emergent properties. Thus, that which emerges from the use of the transdisciplinary approach can potentially lead us into the future; most importantly, it can lead us into a future characterized by openings, rather than closings, by Life rather than by Death, for, as Nicolescu notes: "Transdisciplinarity is globally open."(15)

In the case of studying data from a variety of perspectives we invariably find that new meanings emerge, meanings that would otherwise have remained unseen; hence, unexpressed. On account of the fact that transdisciplinarity is "based on questioning" when we approach things in this way we are encouraged and enabled to look at them with fresh eyes. What Nicolescu calls the "three pillars of transdisciplinarity: multiple levels of Reality; the logic of the included middle; and complexity" are what "determine the methodology of transdisciplinary research." Indeed, these are the three elements which can help answer the question "How do I use the transdisciplinary approach?" because the elusive X that is transdisciplinarity necessarily manifests if one accepts the fact that Reality is multi-leveled, that the logic of the included middle is a viable alternative to binary logic depending on the level of Reality in question, and that Reality is inherently complex. Although the opposite is usually held to be true, simple solutions to problems are almost never realistic because Reality is almost never simple.

From out of the transdisciplinary attitude also emerges an unprecedented tolerance toward creeds, practices and people which would otherwise have been at worst, actively oppressed; at best, suppressed, relegated to the margins, regarded as Other. Transdisciplinarity even fosters the emergence of ways of knowing that are not merely limited to the realm of the intellect, but encompass intuition, imagination, feelings and the body. This is extremely radical. As I have already pointed out, the use of the transdisciplinary approach necessitates change within the being of the researcher. Transdisciplinarity entails respect for Nature; more than that, it entails the experience of a lived connection with Nature. Thus, every instance of reaching out towards an object of study results in deepened knowledge of the self. Finally, we should take note that in every area of human knowledge, since time immemorial, genius has always operated in a transdisciplinary way. That is the nature of genius.(16)


Applying the Transdisciplinary Approach in the Social Sciences and Humanities

These days, whenever I have a new project to do, I use a transdisciplinary approach because I have come to the point where there is no other possibility. However, for those who are not yet as committed as I am, it may not be clear what using such an approach could mean. What follows is addressed to those people.

Imagine that you have embarked on a research project that examines the lives of middle-aged women in 14th century southern Italy. You already plan to do work with local archives and various other documents and artifacts that can be accessed in the villages your project encompasses. You have also scheduled meetings with cultural historians already working in the area and have even widened the scope of your research to include relevant studies of domestic architecture. Clearly, your project qualifies as interdisciplinary. What might qualify it as transdisciplinary is if you went beyond all that and made time to interview middle-aged women presently living in villages of southern Italy. There would be no reason to assume there is any direct connection but it could well turn out that you would gain insights that you never dreamed were possible.

Or one might be studying some European alchemical texts and images as I have and been struck by some apparent similarities between those texts and images and the ones belonging to the tradition of Indian Tantra. In my case, since I am not a Sanskrit specialist in an article I published I could only suggest at the very end in what was almost an aside that further work could very well be undertaken by scholars who were better equipped to explore those apparent commonalities.(17)

As a result, several have written me and informed me that they have begun to do just that. We have yet to see what will emerge from their research but it will almost certainly be important and unexpected.

In the case of the scientist referred to above, while trying to understand the development of stringed instruments, he explains that he had to look at a number of disciplines, including that of the history of music. In a personal communication he wrote:

The work required that I use three disparate methodologies simultaneously. 1) The scientific method-which deals with the question 'what?'. When engaged in historical research, scientific method can only be applied, as it were, in arrears, but it is nonetheless necessary. Sometimes it is used in reverse. We know the historical outcome and that gives clues to building the theory that led to that outcome. Here is an example that may help. There is a considerable Greek literature concerning the tuning of the seven-stringed lyre (from which both current Western and Middle-Eastern music are derived). Dozens of systems were described - but only one only leads to the conclusion that the next development would be, specifically, an eleven-stringed lyre. Not only that, but the eleven-stringed lyre would bring more discords and no benefits. The extant literature, it turns out, does indeed tell us exactly that. Thus we can be sure of the actual tuning of the classical lyre. 2) Empiricism-which deals with the question "how?". It is necessary to actually play a stringed instrument in order to understand, not just music, but the regular needs of the instrument itself - in particular tuning. It is necessary to build such instruments - so that virtual historic instruments can be reliably imagined, and, if required, be constructed and played. And finally, 3) hermeneutics, that deals with the most important, and most often ignored, question "why?". It is necessary not just to interpret what one reads and sees in worlwide literature, iconography, artifacts, etc. It is necessary to recognize that which is not so obvious. In "Much Ado About Nothing," Shakespeare wrote: "Is it not strange that sheep's guts should hale souls out of men's bodies?". That sentiment is found throughout history and throughout cultures.(18)

One of the most striking examples of the transdisciplinary approach can be found in the work of the late archaeologist, Maria Gimbutas, who founded a new discipline she called "archaeomythology", an area of study that combines archaeology, linguistics, religion, and mythology. In an article written by Marguerite Rigoglioso we read:

In 1956, Gimbutas became the first scholar to link linguistic research with archeological data, identifying the homeland (in the steppes of Russia) of the patriarchal Indo-European peoples she called "Kurgans" and tracing their infiltrations into Europe. (After decades of debate, her hypothesis was verified by Stanford geneticist L. L. Cavalli-Svorza.)(19)

Her work is generally described as being interdisciplinary but it was in fact transdisciplinary because she did not only utilize methods and approaches from a variety of disciplines but allowed herself to look at the data she was examining with completely fresh eyes; that is, she allowed the data to suggest meanings to her, rather than impose conventional theories on the data.

The transdisciplinary approach encourages what Nicolescu has described as a "quality" which leads us to "the very heart of the scientific approach, which is the permanent questioning related to the resistance of facts, images, representations, and formalizations."(20) We are constantly led to ask "Why?" and this is what functions to move us into a space that is "between the disciplines, across the ... disciplines, and beyond all discipline." (21) This is what moves us into the "transdisciplinary world," which is a world of "transfiguration," rather then keeping us mired in "the classical world of figuration." We look at the world with astonishment, rather than with tired, prejudiced, jaded eyes. To quote Nicolescu here again: "The word mirror comes from the Latin mirare, meaning, "to look at with astonishment." The act of "looking at" presupposes two terms: the one who looks" (here, the researcher) "and the one who is being looked at" (here, the data).(22)

Where else could this union occur except within the space of transdisciplinarity?



The development of what can be termed the masculine sphere - which has become identified with the Subject - has continued virtually unchecked now for thousands of years now. The result is that the feminine - which has become identified with the Object - has been suppressed, or worse, attempts have been made to eradicate it completely. It would be a grave mistake to reduce what I am referring to here to mere biological terms or to ideological feminism as that is generally understood. Here I intend something far more subtle, nuanced and real than either of those. In his Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity Nicolescu writes:

Reality encompasses the Subject, the Object, and the Sacred, which are three facets of one and the same Reality. Without any one of these three facets, Reality is no longer real, but a dangerous phantasmagoria."(23)

To baldly state that Reality encompasses the Subject is sufficiently problematic in the postmodern academy, but to add that it also encompasses the sacred will undoubtedly be the source of even more consternation. Notwithstanding, with respect to the sacred Nicolescu states in his opening address recently delivered to the Sixth Annual Congress of Philosophy and Culture in Saint Petersburg: "In fact, the presence of the sacred is our own human transpresence in the world."(24) While a full explication of what he means is beyond the scope of the present paper what I can say here is that he is absolutely correct, and we ignore what he says at our peril. As for we academics, not all of our cleverness and wit, nor all of our publications, however prestigious, can function to change that fact. We human beings are collectively in danger of becoming extinct, perhaps by way of some nuclear "accident," or war, or perhaps because of damage to the environment such that human life becomes no longer sustainable.

By way of conclusion I want to recall a phenomenon that Nicolescu calls the "Eros of the world" and the "Eros in Nature."(25) What is needed is for us to resolve the oppositions of masculine and feminine in an approach to Reality that would be essentially a celebration of the Eros of the world. Eros is fluid, processual, emergent, the source of infinite creativity; it is that which transmutes. The opening of a subject onto an object which is something that all researchers do is a dialectic movement; it does not occur in only one direction. In other words, it is not simply a matter of a subject reaching out towards an object, but rather, of a mutual, reciprocal, exquisitely nuanced movement, on all levels, whether they are seen or unseen, said, or unsaid. This movement constitutes a way of knowing which entails opening, not closing. It is a way of knowing in which a subject opens onto an object, and thereby enters into relation with it, and experiences a change in being as a result.(26) We are talking here about a qualitative process, a process that might be called "interactive co-evolution," a term I conceived as a result of an inspiration from Predrag Cicovacki.(27) This way of knowing is intimately bound up with the enabling power of Nature (which I understand in the broadest possible sense, to mean all of Reality, the entire universe). This movement is the movement of Eros.(28) This movement is the movement of Eros.(29) In other words, this result-the Eroticization of the world-will have the character of necessity. It is this movement that constitutes the hallmark of transdisciplinarity and thus functions as the profoundly transformative, mysterious X that is at the center of the transdisciplinary approach. To approach things in a transdisciplinary way will inevitably result in the Eroticization of the world. It is this that can insure that our quest for a tomorrow that will bear fruit in the form of a future for humanity and it is this that will make possible the "re-enchantment of the world."(30)

© Karen-Claire Voss (Department of English Literature, Fatih University, Istanbul, Turkey)


(1) In Joseph's Brenner's paper; Paraconsistency and Transconistency in the Logic of Stephane Lupasco, p. 1, he pointed out that "the philosophical use of dialectics by Fichte and Hegel . . . maintained the tautological character of classical logic," which is indeed true.

(2) Basarab Nicolescu; Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, Translated by Karen-Claire Voss, State University of New York Press, 2002, p. 56.

(3) From the preface The Myth of Method in Mythology, in Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty; Women, Androgynes and Other Mythical Beasts, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 4.

(4) Looking back again on the text of the closed book examination which I did on the methodology of Eliade for the purpose of the present paper was illuminating because I had forgotten how radical it was. In it I upheld the ideal of "a methodological diversity every bit as rich and varied and celebrated as the idea of cultural diversity which most scholars of religion have currently embraced (or at least pay lip service to)." I continued by saying that "social scientific method(s) are acceptable (for example, they characterize most of the presentations at the annual meetings of the AAR, most of the articles published in JAAR) while the 'other' methods - more humanistically-oriented, speculative, metaphysical, etc., are being marginalized . . . I find that it is the social scientists who have climbed on the ladder to sermonize." I also invoked Wilfred Cantwell Smith's horror at the fact that it is prevalent in academia to prefer the articulation of method as opposed to the articulation of substance. Clearly, I had gone beyond the pale even then, in 1990.

(5) This is the kind of work that is being done increasingly in universities such as the Centre for Cross Cultural Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia and the University of East Anglia in Norwich, Norfolk in the United Kingdom, to give but two examples.

(6) From a personal communication by photographic scientist Andrew Green.

(7) Basarab Nicolescu; Manifesto, op.cit., The Transdisciplinary Evolution of Learning, p. 2.

(8) In our paper; Strained Bedfellows: Scientific Method, Hermeneutics and the Study of Esotericism, p. 25, Basarab Nicolescu and I wrote that: "It is critically important to emphasize that the notion of "level of Reality" is not the result of mere philosophical speculation; rather, it is engendered by the study of natural systems." Presented at the 17th International Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), Mexico City, August 5-11, 1995.

(9) Ibid., pp. 15-18.

(10) Ibid., p. 25.

(11) Basarab Nicolescu; Manifesto, op. cit., p. 132.

(12) See Basarab Nicolescu; Les sciences exactes-Interaction avec les sciences humaines et rôle dans la societé, p. 1. Presented to a conference at the Université Saint-Joseph, Bayreuth, December 2002.

(13) Basarab Nicolescu, Manifesto, op cit., p. 142.

(14) Ibid., p. 3.

(15) Basarab Nicolescu; The Transdisciplinary Evolution of Learning, p. 3. A paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, Montreal, Canada, April 1999, in the round-table session Overcoming the Underdevelopment of Learning: a Transdisciplinary View.

(16) The word 'genius' comes from the Greek 'gignesthai' meaning 'to be born or come into being.' It also meant a deity or spirit who guarded a person (the spirit who belonged to a person from birth and who guided them through life and also through death). In the mythology of Islam a 'jinni' also has the meaning of a guardian spirit. It is etymologically related to words like 'engender,' 'generation,' and 'generate,' hence, the word 'genius' is intimately bound up with creative energy and spirit. Intuition, imagination and creativity-all operative in the transdisciplinary approach-have always characterized scientific discovery. For example, mathematician Karl Fredrich Gauss related in his journal that the proof that every number could be represented as a product of prime numbers in only one way came to him suddenly after years of work. In his diary he wrote: "Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle happened to be solved . . . I am unable to name the nature of the thread which connected what I previously knew with that which made my success possible"

(17) See Karen-Claire Voss; Spiritual Alchemy: Interpreting Representative Texts and Images, in: Roelof van den Broek & Wouter J. Hanegraaf, eds.; Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times, Albany, New York, State University of New York Press, 1998.

(18) From a personal communication from Andrew Green, dated 25 October 2003. I am grateful for his permission to quote from it here. I note the striking similarity between what Shakespeare said and what William James wrote in The Sentiment of Rationality, 194), p. 76: "A Beethoven string quartet is truly, as someone has said, a scraping of horses' tails on cats' bowels, and may be exhaustively described in such terms; but the application of this description in now way precludes the simultaneous applicability of an entirely different description." Cited in O'Flaherty, op. cit., p. 9.

(19) Marguerite Rigoglioso; Marija Gimbutas: 1921-1994: Grandmother of a Movement, New Age Journal, May/June, 1997. See the reprint at

(20) Basarab Nicolescu; Manifesto, op cit., p. 133.

(21) Ibid., p. 44.

(22) Ibid., p. 66.

(23) Ibid., p. 72.

(24) Basarab Nicolescu; Toward a Methodological Foundation of the Dialogue Between the Technoscientific and Spiritual Cultures, at the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy and Culture, Differentiation and Integration of World View, on the theme of the Dynamics of Dialogue Between Cultures in the 21st Century, Saint Petersburg, 29 October - 2 November 2003. The conference was organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Minister of Culture with the support of UNESCO.

(25) Ibid., pp. 85-86.

(26) For a detailed explanation of esoteric gnosis see Antoine Faivre and Karen-Claire Voss; Western Esotericism and the Science of Religions, Numen, January 1995, 48-77.

(27) In Predrag Cicovacki's Transdisciplinarity As an Interactive Method: A Critical Reflection on the Three Pillars of Transdisciplinarity, presented in the section The Unifying Method of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences: the Method of Transdisciplinarity," at The Unifying Aspects of Cultures Conference held in Vienna, 7-9 November, 2003, he proposed that it would be more precise to substitute the term "interaction" for Nicolescu's term "coevolution." In the discussion we had after his presentation I suggested that a third solution-preferable to either of these two-would be to use instead the phrase "interactive co-evolution."

(28) Adapted from 'Feminine' Gnosis: Gnosis and Modern Feminist Thought, an invited lecture presented to the Amsterdam Summer University Course on Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times. Amsterdam, The Netherlands, August 15-19, 1994.

(29) Adapted from 'Feminine' Gnosis: Gnosis and Modern Feminist Thought, an invited lecture presented to the Amsterdam Summer University Course on Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, August 15-19, 1994.

(30) Basarab Nicolescu; Science, Meaning & Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme, New York; Parabola Books, 1991, p. 109.

1.6. The Unifying Method of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences: The Method of Transdisciplinarity

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