Feature Article: Transdisciplinarity in Higher Education, Part 6, University Babes-Bolyai, Romania

Feature Articles / June 2011

Nicolescu in Romania

Sue LT McGregor and Russ Volckmann

Sue LT McGregor

Russ Volckmann

Thus far we have looked at transdisciplinary programs at particular institutions of higher education in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Austria and the European Union, and Australia. In this penultimate chapter in this series we take a look, not just at a transdisciplinary PhD program in Romania, but at the remarkable Romanian who has encouraged and fostered so much attention to transdisciplinarity around the world: Basarab Nicolescu.

Nicolescu is a Romanian physicist who has been working primarily in Paris since the late 1960s. He is a theoretical physicist at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique, Laboratoire de Physique Nucléaire et de Hautes Énergies and at Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris. He is a specialist in the theory of elementary particles. His books and articles have been published in numerous countries in addition to France. Best known to some is his Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, published by SUNY Press in the United States (2002). Also, he was appointed as Professor Extraordinary at Stellenbosch University, South Africa for the period 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2013. He was also elected as Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) Fellow for the period March 6, 2011 – April 6, 2011. As an aside, Stellenbosch launched its PhD program in transdisciplinarity and sustainability studies in 2008.

Nicolescu is the president and founder of the International Center for Transdisciplinary Research and Studies (CIRET) of which each of the authors of this series are members. In addition to fostering the Transdisciplinary doctoral program in sustainability at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, he held faculty positions and recently spent several weeks teaching there. He also is the co-founder with René Berger of the Study Group on Transdisciplinarity at UNESCO (1992). He has presented at conferences around the world.

Nicolescu’s approach to transdisciplinarity seeks a reconciliation between science and the humanities  (to be discussed shortly)In 2006 he was named Professor at the Faculty of European Studies, University Babes-Bolyai, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where he coordinates a PhD program in philosophy with a transdisciplinarity option. Recently, the authors of this article talked with him about this program. That is the subject of this article. Additional insights from that conversation may be found in the article concluding this series.

Contributors to Wikipedia tell us,

Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai, (Hungarian: Babeș-Bolyai Tudományegyetem) in Cluj-Napoca is an [sic] university in Romania. With almost 50,000 students, the university offers 105 specialisations, of which there are 105 in Romanian, 67 in Hungarian, 17 in German, and 5 in English.

It is the top ranked university in Romania. It grew out of a college established in 1581 under the Jesuits and established by István Báthory, prince of Transylvania. In more recent times (1959), the Romanian communist authorities decided to merge two universities, “Babes” and “Bolyai” into one, calling it Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai. This merger marginalized the large Hungarian population in Romania. Since the Romanian Revolution in 1989, in which ethnic Hungarians played a major role, the university has increased the number of specializations in Hungarian. In addition, they added specializations taught in German and in English.

It should not be surprising, for an institution with such a long history and with sets of traditions, that initiating a new PhD program might take some time. In fact, it took six years from the time Nicolescu initiated the request to gain permission to set up the program. To do so, he became a member of  the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of European Studies where courses are taught in Romanian, German and English. Interestingly, “American Studies” is included in this Faculty. Among the postgraduate programs is “European Strategy for Sustainable Development.” Sustainability is a frequent theme among higher education transdisciplinary programs around the world.

Included in the transdisciplinarity PhD program option is a year-long course that brings together opportunities to study with professors from many disciplines; this course is led by Nicolescu. In addition, learners take courses in various disciplines. After they complete their examinations, they are required to do two projects that are transdisciplinary in nature. Nicolescu explained that the design of this doctoral program mirrors the requirements of the Bologna Process. Here are excerpts from the official description of the program:

The course “Transdisciplinarity” offers the study of the methodology of transdisciplinarity, with applications both to exact and human sciences. We analyze the sources of the three postulates of transdisciplinarity—levels of reality, logic of the included middle and complexity—not only in quantum physics and quantum cosmology but also in religion, psychoanalysis, law studies, economy, sociology, arts and literature and we describe the perspectives of applications in different fields of knowledge.

Objective: Knowledge of the flux of information which circulates in between different disciplines, crosses them and goes beyond any discipline.

The course facilitates the global understanding of the present world and offers the possibility of flexibility in passing during the lifetime of the person—unavoidable in the future—from one job to another job

Acquired competences: development of awareness of the unity of knowledge, development of the capacity of passing from the representations of a given discipline to representations of another discipline, the power of detecting the hidden assumptions in a given representation, development of capacity of innovation and creativity, development of the awareness of the link between laws of nature and human laws, development of capacity of taking rational and realistic decisions in situations of high complexity.

The scope and diversity of interests of the seventeen students who have completed (3) or are currently in (14) the program is represented in the following list of dissertations underway, worth repeating in full to give a full sense of the range of transdisciplinary applications (Romanian letter symbols have not been used consistently in this list):

  • Petrisor-Claudiu Militaru, Surrealism and Modern Science—A Transdisciplinary Approach / Suprarealismul si stiinta moderna—O abordare transdisciplinara.
  • Silvia Mihaela Grigorean, “The Gospel According to Thomas”—Transdisciplinary Hermeneutics / “Evanghelia dupa Toma”—Hermeneutica transdisciplinara
  • Anca Cristina Mustea, Transdisciplinary Approach of the Need for the Sacred in the Contemporary Society / O abordare transdisciplinara a nevoii de sacru în societatea contemporana


  • Gabriela Ligia Popescu, Psychology of the Religious Behaviour / Psihologia comportamentului religios
  • Marius Cristian Ene, René Daumal (1908-1944)—From Poetry to Experimental Metaphysics / René Daumal (1908-1944), de la poezie la metafizica experimentala
  • Maria Lucia Muresan, A Transdisciplinary Model of Communication / Un model transdisciplinar al comunicarii
  • Florian Negrutiu, Religion and Science—A Critical Analysis of the “Scientific Theology” of Alister McGrath / Religie si stiinta: O analiza critica a “teologiei stiintifice” a lui Alister McGrath
  • Dana Lacramioara Oltean, Esthetical, Intercultural and Transculutural Education as Motivation Strategies for Learning French Language / Educatia estetica, interculturala si transculturala ca strategii motivationale în învatarea limbii franceze
  • Cantemir Mambet, Transdisciplinary Approach of Risk Management and Decisional Processes / Abordarea transdisciplinara a gestiunii si management-ului riscurilor si al proceselor decizional
  • Gabriela Nica, Gothic Cathedral as a Means of Knowledge Transmission / Catedrala gotica—mijloc de transmitere a cunoasterii
  • Adrian Mirel Petrariu, Levels of Reality in Social Systems / Niveluri de realitate în sistemele sociale
  • Gabriela Toma, Tanathological Representations in Romanian and Mexican Cultures—A Transdisciplinary Approach / Reprezentari tanatologice în spatiul românesc si mexican: o abordare transdisciplinara
  • Aliteea-Bianca Turtureanu, Translinguism and Transculture in the Work of Nancy Huston / Translinguisme et transculture dans l’œuvre de Nancy Huston
  • Pascal Verniory, For an Ethics of Author Rights—Rethinking the Author and His Creation Place in the Informational Society: Human Aspects or Hostages of the Cultural Industry? / Pour une éthique du droit d’auteur—Repenser la place de l’auteur et de sa création dans la société de l’information: révélateurs de l’humain ou otages de l’industrie culturelle?
  • Cristian Andrei Tataru, Tantrism—A Transdisciplinary Approach / Tantrismul—O abordare transdisciplinara
  • Marin Constantin Grigorean, Transdisciplinary Understanding of the Ladder Symbol / O întelegere transdisciplinara a simbolului scarii
  • Elena Luiza Mitu, Eugène Ionesco and the Logic of Contradiction / Eugène Ionesco si logica contradictoriului

From science to literature, philosophy to culture, and more, the range of dissertation topics is fascinating and representative of the potential for transdisciplinary in higher education. Students are engaged with surrealism, the scared, the gospel, the logic of contradiction, linguistic and cultures, risk management, architecture, communication, poetry. This is an amazing reflection of the intended focus of transdisciplinary studies: to allay societal ills stemming from the fragmentation of knowledge by integrating complex layers of knowing and perspectives to understand the world.

Nicolescu indicated in our conversation that the scope of the program is broad because of the many departments whose professors are accessed by students and because of the many students who participate in the course from other departments. Nicolescu is situated within philosophy for this program, along with about ten other professors. The students attend lectures and seminars and undertake two projects or reports in their preparation for their doctoral degree. They then have one and a half years of work in transdisciplinarity.

His course (52 hours) increases learners’ ability to shift perspectives across disciplines and to develop the capacity for innovation. This approach relates to developing oneness between the laws of nature and human laws and the laws of society. In an attempt to unify knowledge, his own lectures and seminars include scientific methodology, what is the modern science, quantum mechanics, the foundation of quantum physics, quantum physics as case example of the scientific methodology. He speaks about classical logic and quantum logic, imagination in scientific activity, and more. He also includes a focus on applications in individual and collective life experiences.

Following these lectures, learners have to pass two examinations. One of them is in the form of a project In which they imagine a situation or transdisciplinarity event. They have to design it from beginning to the end, including things like a proposal to a sponsor for a conference, congress and so on. They have to imagine from the basic argumentation until the financing through fundraising for this event. Then, they have to pursue the project in collaboration with stakeholders and decision makers within the university and in the larger community. The second project is their dissertation.

What we find particularly interesting about the program in Romania is that, in a large and significant portion of the university, transdisciplinarity has been made accessible to graduate students in a wide variety of fields, as well as the core discipline in its own PhD program. This would be like establishing an attractor within a university setting and allowing the evolution of the relationships between transdisciplinarity as a methodology and each of the traditional disciplines. This diffusion has been made possible, at least in part, by the status and standing of Basarab Nicolescu. His international standing and leadership of the international dialogue around transdisciplinarity has resulted in attracting students from many countries.

Nicolescu leads the orientation to transdisciplinarity that presumes it is a methodology in its own right, with three pillars or axioms: (a) knowledge as complex and emergent (epistemology); (b) the Logic of the Included Middle, and (c) multiple Levels of Reality mediated by the Hidden Third (ontology). His approach is grounded in quantum physics, chaos theory and living systems theory, amongst other challengers to the old sciences. There is another dominant line of thinking that presumes transdisciplinarity is a hybrid form of interdisciplinarity, led by such luminaries as Michael Gibbons and Helga Notwotny. They concentrate on joint problem-solving of problems pertaining to the science-technology-society triad. This version of transdisciplinarity was largely expressed at the Zurich Congress (2000).

Nicolescu feels strongly that there needs to be a deep respect for the different approaches to transdisciplinarity. Proponents of different approaches must step back and analyze them to see if aspects are compatible and if anything can be learned from differences. As well, Nicolescu believes that higher education (universities) eventually will disappear if they stay as they are now, factories of specialized knowledge. We need to take small steps in our efforts to move institutions of higher education towards transdisciplinarity. These steps include respecting and learning from the differences (just mentioned) as well as “stop being lost in the translation.” By this he means instead of describing different approaches to TD as “the other,” we need to read and appreciate the different definitions of TD. Gaining these understandings is challenging, especially because of the range of languages used by authors (e.g., French, English, German, Portuguese and Spanish). Appreciating that these understandings will take time and cost money, Nicolescu advocates for the creation of a “network of networks” that could organize once each year, taking special efforts to hold learning sessions for leaders and decision makers of schools and institutes.

Advocates for transdisciplinarity need to be able to talk to each other and leverage leadership to make small, focused changes in the academy. Nicolescu appreciates that everything is interconnected, and if strategic points of leadership can be leveraged, change can occur. He believes this is how the Romanian TD program became so successful. He uses the term “mentalities” to refer to politics and asserts that in many institutions of higher education, mentalities are the problem. Leaders need to be convinced that the current approaches to higher education are inefficient and not conducive to a healthy society or world. He explained that the liberation of Romania, mentioned at the beginning, created a space for thinking about social transformation in Romania and that TD was seen as a way forward. The aim of the transdisciplinary PhD at Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai is to open the university to society. The current program strove to help the university leaders better connect with the idea of transdisciplinarity (respecting natural resistance to change) and to help them become aware of the possibilities. Nicolescu believes that architects of transdisciplinary higher education programs have to create and nurture a social climate for TD, whereby by people search for values at the intersection of science, spirituality and society. This culture can be fostered through the creation of small TD centers within universities, centers that become the nucleus of boundary-pushing scholarship and intellectual innovations.

About the Authors

Professor Sue LT McGregor, PhD is a Canadian home economist and Doctoral Program Coordinator in the Faculty of Education, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Prior to that, she was a member of the Human Ecology Department for 15 years. Sue’s work explores and pushes the boundaries of consumer studies and home economics philosophy and leadership, especially from transdisciplinary, transformative, new sciences, and moral imperatives. In 2010, she was appointed Docent in Home Econom- ics at the University of Helsinki. She is a member of the IFHE Research Committee, a Kappa Omicron Nu Research Fellow, a Sustainable Frontier Research Associate, and a long-time Board member of the International Journal of Consumer Studies. She has delivered over 35 keynotes/invited talks in 10 countries, has over 120 peer-reviewed publications, 11 book chapters, and six monographs. She published Transformative Practice (2006) and her new book, Consumer Moral Leadership, was released in May 2010 (Sense Publishers). She received the 2009 TOPACE international award for her work on transdisciplinary consumer/citizenship education.  She is the Principal Consultant for The McGregor Consulting Group (founded in 1991). http://www.consult mcgregor.com/ Email: sue.mcgregor@msvu.ca

Russ Volckmann
, PhD, is Publisher and Editor of Integral Leadership Review and Integral Publishers, LLC.

[S1]russ – is this supposed to be one month?

[S2]I placed a hyperlink here