Creating a theory and a degree

Rajdeep Singh Gill’s ideas won’t be put in a box

UBC student Rajdeep Singh Gill is tall, expressive and passionate and his mind works fast. For the past five years, he’s been trying to channel this energy and his thoughts into a PhD dissertation that could only be described as expansive.

Gill’s PhD research engages the fields of fine art, art history, philosophy, science, media and technology, cultural studies, indigenous studies, law, history and sociology.

A Trudeau scholar, he has developed a philosophical and practical outlook on the interrelationship of creativity, ethics and justice in a dissertation entitled, “Transforming Curatorial Practice: Transdisciplinarity, Plural Worldviews and the Creative Universe.”

To Gill, creativity is the “multidimensional human and non-human capacity to transformatively participate in the world.” He grounds such an exploration of creativity in a wide range of examples, from cultural contributions of crows to the technologies of plants, from Sikh philosophy to social movements.

Within that framework Gill explains how creativity is integral to ethical responsiveness and the gathering and pursuit of a more comprehensive sense of justice in a diverse and interconnected world.

“Creativity is an essential part of human flourishing,” says Gill. “We don’t normally see creativity as part of justice but it is a good measure of whether and how we may feel free and just in the world.”

Taking the time to explore and pull so many different ideas and disciplines together into a thesis has only been possible because of opportunities found in the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (ISGP), in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at UBC. Gill is typical of the students in the program who study in nearly 40 departments and 11 research centres and institutes across UBC.

“The world is complex and my theory is complex and this program has given me the room to be imaginative and for my ideas to come together organically,” says Gill.

This year, ISGP is celebrating its 40th anniversary and is still producing research that integrates theory and practice across the disciplines. More than 300 students have graduated from the program and have moved onto careers in law, medicine, academia, architecture, business, science, the arts and government.

“One of our graduates lived in solitude on an island off the coast of Chile for a year as part of his studies which integrated philosophy, psychology and forestry,” says Hillel Goelman, chair of ISGP. “This program encourages students to take ownership of their work. They decide what and how to study.”

Every student has an individualized program of study and the program has no required courses that all students must take. Students who want to bring together ideas from various fields don’t have to look for a program that fits their interests. They design their own program.

“They are the centre of their program,” explains Goelman. “In consultation with their interdisciplinary supervisory committee, they decide which classes to take, what their research will look like and whom they consult as an expert.”

“ISGP encourages you to have integrity over your vision and your project,” says Gill.

This student-directed format worked perfectly for Gill because it gave him the freedom to choose how to carry out his research and where.

For the first four years of his PhD, Gill lived and worked from the Gulf Islands where he began forming his research ideas. He also spent time managing the organization Creativity Commons Collective and Press, traveling internationally for research, teaching at Emily Carr and interacting with interdisciplinary thinkers, policy makers, artists, and public intellectuals through annual Trudeau Foundation events.

Gill believes that we should not separate our commitments and understandings into compartments.

“The world doesn’t work by disciplines, and the way I conduct my life acknowledges this interconnectivity,” he says. “The indivisibility of justice necessitates that we learn to think creatively and relate across worldviews.”

To learn more about the ISGP and anniversary events:

Amartya Sen

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen will receive an honorary degree from UBC at a ceremony on April 21. Sen won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on welfare economics, human development theory and famine.

Sen’s research crosses several disciplines but he is best known for his work to understand the causes of famine. This work led to the development of new policies and solutions for preventing and minimizing the effects of food shortages.

The honorary degree is being presented to Sen as part of the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program’s 40th anniversary celebration and as part of the Institute of Asian Research’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, who was Asia’s first Nobel Laureate and who deeply influenced Sen. Born on Tagore’s university campus, it is believed that Tagore gave Sen his name, Amartya.

As part of the ceremony, Sen, who is currently the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, will give an Address.

Click here for more information about the event and tickets. 

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UBC Reports | Vol. 57 | No. 4 | Apr. 6, 2011

For his PhD, Rajdeep Singh Gill has developed a philosophical and practical outlook on the interrelationship of creativity, ethics and justice. Photo by: Martin Dee

For his PhD, Rajdeep Singh Gill has developed a philosophical and practical outlook on the interrelationship of creativity, ethics and justice. Photo by: Martin Dee

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Celebrating 40 years

This year, UBC’s Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (ISGP) is celebrating its 40th anniversary and the work of more than 300 students who have graduated from the program. Alumni and current students of the ISGP have studied a wide range of topics including:

Urban Renewal, Drug-Related Disorder and Displacement: Implications for Health and HIV Risk Behaviour among Injection Drug Using Populations

Storefronts, Tent Cities, and Squats: The Forms and Meanings of Dwellings Constructed by Persons who are Homeless

Early Childhood and War: Exploring Child Development in Post Conflict Northern Uganda

The Role of Aboriginal Artistic Expression in Aboriginal Community: Politics in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland

Psychiatric Disorders and Patterns of Mental Health Services Utilization According to Ethnic Differences in Juvenile Detainees in British Columbia

Acoustical Characterization of Green Roofs: Contributions to Building Ecology and the Urban Soundscape

Topologies and Design Methods of Folding Structures: Expanding the Architectural Paradigm

Impact of International Drug Policy: Social and Structural Influences on Health Outcomes and Health Care Access among Injection Drug Users in Bangkok, Thailand

How Representation and Processing of Visuospatial Information in the Brain Influences Music Learning

Harnessing Social Capital to Reduce Human Exposure to Pesticides: A Case Study in Ecuador

On the Subject of Goethe and the Nature of Pzribram: Science Studies Research on the Nineteenth-Century Scientific Persona

Public Trust in Biobanks: The Influence of Economic and Funding Factors

Biomedical Innovation in Regenerative Medicine

Writing Instruction in Interdisciplinary and Multi-disciplinary Spaces: A Critical Ethnography of Writing Studies in Canada

Children and Adolescents Facing Extreme Adversity: Social Ecology, Resiliency and Psychosocial Interventions

Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The Interface of Art & Science

Cultural Resilience in the Upper Athabasca River Valley: The Role of Traditional Leadership in a Modern World

Le Corbusier and the Politics of Postcoloniality

Heidegger in the Poetry and Poetics of Octavio Paz

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