Liberal Studies Program (LSP): Modes of Inquiry

 Qualitative Modes

Aesthetic – Visual and Performing Arts

Students who successfully complete the Aesthetic Mode of Inquiry – Visual and Performing Arts demonstrate in their coursework (for example, through writing, creative work, observations, questions, projects and/or discussions) a minimum of three of the following outcomes:

  • an understanding of specialized vocabularies and symbols relative to the field of study;
  • an ability to analyze structures and relationships inherent to a given artistic creation (formalism), including the possibility to do so through the completion of a creative work of their own;
  • an ability to respond or react to a given artistic creation using a range of tools that include: aesthetic sensitivity, personal experience, understanding of social context, and recognition of a variety of cultural/historical references (referentialism);
  • knowledge of a significant number of representative works in a chosen area (or areas) of creative production;
  • thought processes, such as analytical, aesthetic and creative processes, that make connections between isolated components and the complete whole; and
  • the ability to think critically in response to and as a result of participation in the mode.

Aesthetic – Literature

Students who successfully complete the Aesthetic Mode of Inquiry – Literature develop:

  1. the ability to interpret a text by drawing on some of the following techniques: close, active, reflective reading; past experiences; primary and secondary sources; other critical approaches; and
  2. the ability to analyze the structural elements and relationships within a text or between various literary genres in order to explain how authors create responses in readers.

In addition, students who successfully complete this Mode of Inquiry show some of the following features in their writing, observations, questions, and discussions:

  1. familiarity with a significant number of influential and representative works OR familiarity with a significant number of works of an influential author(s);
  2. understanding of the diversity of human experience and creative expression presented in literature;
  3. situating works into historical, cultural or intellectual contexts OR seeing literature’s connections to other disciplines OR seeing how other disciplines can inform the reading of literature;
  4. analyzing the values in the literature read; and
  5. recognizing how our own culturally and experientially derived assumptions shape our reading of a literary text.


In the Historical Mode of Inquiry, students study a broad topic or major geographic area over an extended period of time and demonstrate competence in one or more of the following areas, which characterize the work of historians:

  1. Thinking in terms of causation, change over time, contingency, context, and chronological frameworks;
  2. Drawing upon and synthesizing the content and methodologies of humanistic and social-scientific disciplines to study and interpret the past;
  3. Analyzing the interplay between choices individuals have made and developments societies have undergone; and,
  4. Understanding the social and aesthetic richness of different cultures.

Philosophical and Religious

Any given Mode of Inquiry course in philosophy and religion achieves many, but not necessarily all, of the following outcomes. Upon completion of the Philosophical and Religious Mode of Inquiry, students:

  1. Have reflectively engaged foundational epistemological or methodological issues;
  2. Have employed one or more of the methods of philosophy and religious studies, for example: a) conceptual, linguistic, and logical analysis, or b) philosophical reflection on other disciplines, institutions, and practices, such as natural science, social science, mathematics, law, religion, or the arts, or c) close interpretation of philosophical texts or of diverse elements of religious practice and experience, or d) investigation of how the study of religion is informed by other disciplines in the humanities or social sciences, or e) historical investigation of the development of philosophical perspectives or religious traditions, or f) interpretation and critical evaluation of ethical and political issues and practices;
  3. Have studied materials appropriate to those methods, for example: primary historical texts and figures, contemporary scholarly arguments, proofs, scriptures, religious myths and practices, social practices, or literary texts with philosophical or religious merit;
  4. Have produced their own work consistent in form with one or more of the methods of philosophy and religious studies at a challenging undergraduate level;
  5. Have honed skills common to all intellectual activity but given particular attention by scholars of philosophy and religion: oral and written acuity, critical but faithful reading, argument analysis and evaluation, thesis development and defense;
  6. Have investigated philosophical and religious phenomena in relation to worldviews: comprehensive perspectives or ways of apprehending the world and valuing and acting, both historical and contemporary;
  7. Be able to balance and discriminate between insider and outsider, empathetic and critical views of philosophy and religion, with attention to ethical and cultural sensitivity and tolerance.

Quantitative Modes


Few would deny the central role of mathematics in modern society. It is now commonplace to find uses of algebra, calculus, logic and probability throughout the natural and social sciences and in areas as diverse as archeology, linguistics, music, and zoology. Throughout thousands of years and across a variety of cultures, mathematical thought has proved an important force in the intellectual development of humankind. Familiarity with the mathematical mode of inquiry is therefore imperative in a liberal arts education.

The Mathematical Mode of Inquiry requires the ability to abstract from the particular to the general. Central to its adaptability is the role of modeling, the process of abstracting and translating a physical or natural phenomenon into mathematical symbols and relations. Whereas the scientific modes of inquiry are often concerned with validity and refinement of a particular model, the Mathematical Mode of Inquiry typically focuses on broadening and generalizing that model. For instance, the concept of derivative – the central idea of calculus – arose from problems involving the motion of projectiles and celestial bodies. Its scope of applicability now extends to virtually every facet of modern science. The exploration of disparate questions in order to find pattern and a unifying commonality is a hallmark of mathematical investigation.

The Mathematical Mode of Inquiry builds from clearly stated assumptions and arrives at systematic conclusions through a process of rigorous logic. Mathematics offers a concise, elegant, and universal language which can be used in all those disciplines which seek a precision of expression beyond the merely descriptive and qualitative. The great scientist Galileo once said that “[The Universe] cannot be read until we have learnt the language…in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language.”

Mathematics may be viewed as an essential tool for the development of numerous applied disciplines or as affording aesthetic satisfaction in its own right. In addition, the mathematical mode of inquiry demands a precision of thinking which is an excellent medium for developing the facets of critical reasoning that are central to a liberal education.

Upon completion of the Mathematical Mode of Inquiry, students:

  1. Are able to study assumptions critically, reason logically, and arrive at mathematically sound conclusions;
  2. Have an understanding of the role mathematics has played throughout history and how it has been used to illuminate important questions in a variety of disciplines;
  3. Are able to translate problems in physical and social environments into mathematical language, to reason mathematically about the problems, and to interpret the results of their reasoning;
  4. Understand how mathematics develops by abstracting from specific contexts a general theory which has applications in many different settings; and,
  5. Have had an in-depth exposure to a branch of mathematics, such as calculus, which builds upon the skills learned to fulfill the Essential Skills requirement in Mathematics.

Scientific – Life Science

Upon completion of the Life Science Mode of Inquiry, students:

  1. Have engaged in scientific experimentation, including the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, and aspects of experimental design;
  2. Understand how scientific theories are evaluated and applied;
  3. Understand that science is a human endeavor, influenced by both historical and technological context;
  4. Understand the unifying principles common to all organisms, and recognize ways in which the mechanisms of evolution or human-driven selection have influenced the diversity and complexity of the natural world; and,
  5. Recognize some of the issues in the life sciences that influence society, and have acquired familiarity with some of the technical language and basic theories of science that inform personal and public decision making.

Scientific – Physical Science

Upon completion of the Physical Science Mode of Inquiry, students:

  1. Have engaged in scientific experimentation, including the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data;
  2. Understand how scientific theories are evaluated and applied;
  3. Have learned and used symbolic language, made quantitative measurements, and applied the tools of mathematics to interpret these measurements and to solve quantitative problems; and,
  4. Recognize some of the issues in the physical sciences that influence society, and have acquired familiarity with some of the technical language and basic theories of science that inform personal and public decision making.

Social Scientific

The Social Scientific Mode of Inquiry is designed to facilitate the ability to make more informed decisions about social issues, thus advancing the goal of citizenship and leadership in its broadest meaning in the context of families, groups, communities, societies, and/or the global system in general. Students demonstrate competence in the following areas:

  1. Thinking systematically about humans, societies, and/or organizations, and their interactions;
  2. Applying critical thinking skills and analytical capabilities in the social sciences;
  3. Understanding major generalizations, discoveries, principles, concepts, methodologies, technical language, and theories in at least one of the social science disciplines (Psychology, Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology, Economics, and Geography);
  4. Understanding what constitutes evidence in the social sciences and how social scientists utilize empirical observations for drawing inferences and conclusions; and,
  5. Connecting ideas in the social sciences to real world applications, and to the context of their historical development.