Why Study Science in Human Culture?

The Science in Human Culture Program offers undergraduate students the choice of an adjunct major or a minor field meant to prepare them to confront the impact of science, medicine, and technology on society—and on their own lives. The program welcomes premedical students and science majors interested in thinking beyond the problem sets assigned in their specialized courses, as well as students in the humanities and social sciences who aspire to overcome the division of knowledge that accompanied the rise of modern science.

Students join the program because it offers them a chance to integrate their understanding of science, medicine, technology, and the environment into a liberal arts education, and because it offers them the freedom to tailor an adjunct major or minor to their own particular interests. Above all, the major appeals to students who rebel against the claim that human knowledge can be sharply divided into disciplinary fields, or into the "two cultures"—so neatly symbolized at Northwestern by the north and south ends of campus.

Here are some of the questions students in the program address:

  • Why have we come to believe in scientific explanations?
  • How has scientific knowledge been translated into radical new technologies—from the atomic bomb to the genetic testing of fetuses?
  • In what ways have different places and people around the world served as a venue for scientific innovation and conceptual discovery?
  • How has the rise of medical science altered the relationship between physicians and patients and diseases and environments?
  • What are the religious implications of our changing understanding of space, time, and biological evolution?
  • How has science contributed to (and undermined) our sense of human difference, including racial and sexual difference?
  • Why is the impact of different expert fields so uneven globally?

To this end, SHC also allows students to choose from a menu of courses and focus on topics of interest to them. Hence, SHC is ideal for pre-medical students who want to understand the implications of medical practice, the ethical dilemmas faced by physicians, and the social and economic pressures confronting medicine. SHC also welcomes students majoring in the social sciences who are interested in public health, environmental change, or technology policy, and who understand that these problems cry out for interdisciplinary thinking. SHC can also be an excellent preparation for students planning to enter graduate school in the history, philosophy, sociology, or anthropology of science. And finally, SHC can be a valuable tool for engineers or scientists who want to see how their chosen disciplines have shaped—and been shaped by—the wider world.

After all, one of the main purposes of a liberal arts education is to break down the barriers between disciplines and train students to treat human problems "in the round." Science in Human Culture gives students that opportunity.