Academic disciplines

An academic discipline or field of study is a branch of knowledge that is taught and researched as part of higher education.

A scholar's discipline is commonly defined and recognized by the university faculties and learned societies to which she belongs and the academic journals in which she publishes research. However, there exist no formal criteria for the status of an academic discipline. Disciplines vary between well-established ones that exist in almost all universities and have well-defined rosters of journals and conferences and nascent ones supported by only a few universities and publications.

A discipline usually has several sub-disciplines or branches, but the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous.[1]


The University of Paris in 1231 consisted of four faculties: Theology, Medicine, Canon Law and Arts.[2] Most academic disciplines have their roots in the mid-to-late-19th century secularization of universities, when the traditional curricula were supplemented with non-classical languages and literatures, social sciences such as political science, economics, sociology and public administration, and natural science and technology disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering.

In the early 20th century, new disciplines such as education and psychology were added. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was an explosion of new disciplines focusing on specific themes, such as media studies, women's studies, and black studies. Many disciplines designed as preparation for careers and professions, such as nursing, hospitality management, and corrections, also emerged in the universities. Finally, interdisciplinary scientific fields such as biochemistry and geophysics gained prominence as their contribution to knowledge became widely recognized.

There is no consensus on how some academic disciplines should be classified, e.g., whether anthropology and linguistics are social sciences disciplines or humanities disciplines. More generally, the proper criteria for organizing knowledge into disciplines are also open to debate.

An asterisk (*) denotes a field whose academic status has been debated among this article's editors.


Main articles: Humanities and Outline of the humanities


Main articles: History and Branches of history



Performing arts



Visual arts

Main articles: Visual arts and Outline of visual arts

Social sciences

Main articles: Social sciences and Outline of social science



Area studies

Main article: Area studies

Cultural and ethnic studies

Main articles: Cultural studies and Ethnic studies


Main articles: Economics and Outline of economics

Gender and sexuality studies


Main articles: Geography and Outline of geography

Political science

Main articles: Political science and Outline of politics



Main articles: Sociology and Outline of sociology

Natural sciences

Main articles: Natural science and Outline of natural science

Space sciences

Main article: Space science

Earth sciences

See also Branches of earth sciences

Life sciences

Main article: Life sciences
See also Branches of life sciences


Main articles: Chemistry and Outline of chemistry
See also Branches of chemistry


Main articles: Physics and Outline of physics
See also Branches of physics

Formal sciences

Main article: Formal sciences

Computer sciences

See also ACM Computing Classification System


Main articles: Logic and Outline of logic


Main articles: Mathematics and Outline of mathematics
See also Mathematics Subject Classification


Systems science

Main article: Systems science

Professions and Applied sciences

Main articles: Profession and Applied science


Architecture and Design


Main articles: Business and Business education



Main articles: Education and Outline of education


See also Branches of engineering

Environmental studies and Forestry

Main articles: Environmental studies and Forestry

Family and consumer science

Healthcare science

Main articles: Healthcare science and Outline of healthcare science

Human physical performance and recreation*

Journalism, media studies and communication


Main articles: Law and Outline of law

Library and museum studies

Main articles: Library science and Museology

Military sciences

Main article: Military science

Public administration

Main article: Public administration

Social work


Main article: Transportation theory

See also

Main article: Branches of science



  • Andrew Abbott, Chaos of Disciplines University Of Chicago Press 2001 ISBN 0-226-00101-6
  • Alexandra Oleson & John Voss (eds) The Organization of Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920 Johns Hopkins University Press 1979 ISBN 0-8018-2108-8
  • US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. (CIP). National Center for Education Statistics.

External links

  • Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP 2000): Developed by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics to provide a taxonomic scheme that will support the accurate tracking, assessment, and reporting of fields of study and program completions activity.
  • United Kingdom
  • web-page) Chapter 3 and Appendix 1: Fields of research classification.
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