Discovery Themes and Courses

Discovery Tier courses examine several key themes of contemporary importance across a wide spectrum of scholarly disciplines. Each theme brings together courses from different content areas and methods of inquiry.

  • Humanities (HUM) courses study how people assess, document, describe, explore and seek to improve the human experience through philosophy, literature, religion, art, music, history and language.
  • Social Sciences (SSC) courses share an interest in analyzing and describing human socio-cultural phenomena and interactions at a variety of scales, ranging from the individual to the global.
  • Natural Science and Mathematics (NSM) courses examine the theme through the lens of mathematics and the natural and physical sciences, technology and engineering, each of which represents a distinct way of explaining the natural world.

Discovery Themes

Basic Needs and Justice

This theme explores the interrelationship between basic needs and justice. If something is so essential to human life that no human being can survive without it, then access to this basic need would seem to be a matter of justice. Yet the identification of basic needs is not necessarily straightforward. Food, water, clothing, and shelter are all essential for survival, but how much of each constitutes a basic need, and how much is a matter of luxury? In what ways have these thresholds been culturally conditioned? Are higher order concerns like health care, education, social connection, and freedom from the threat of violence fairly defined as basic needs as well?

This theme encourages a fuller study of the nature of the human person and the notion of a fully human life in order to answer these and related questions. At the same time, because the distribution of basic needs is a matter of justice, this theme also invites students to examine how different descriptions of basic needs have influenced the definition of justice and vice versa.

At what point does the lack of access to one’s basic needs become an injustice? How should one react to the unjust distribution of basic needs? Can violence be used in the pursuit of justice or are nonviolent means the only option? Who bears the responsibility for ensuring a just distribution? Who (or what) is to blame for an unjust distribution? With a clearer picture of the basic needs that make up a human life and the norms of justice that regulate access to them, students will be prepared to identify and address injustices in the world around them.

For courses in the Basic Needs and Justice theme, visit the Bulletin.

Cognition, Memory and Intelligence

How do we process interactions with the world around us? How do we acquire knowledge? How do we make memories? How does language influence how we think? How do social interactions change how we think? How do we imagine things and events we've not experienced? How do new technologies change how we think? Why and how do the answers to these questions change over the course of one's life? How does lifestyle, injury or disease affect these processes? What is artificial intelligence, and how is artificial intelligence in computers and machines different from human intelligence?

Students choosing this theme will study the mind from a variety of perspectives, including: neurocognitive processes of early childhood and adult brain development, mental disorder, trauma and PTSD; language acquisition, speech pathology, and the cognitive operations of multilingualism and translation; artificial intelligence, machine learning and data science; and reflections on and representations and understandings of the workings of the human mind in history, theology, philosophy, literature and languages, and communications and media studies.

For courses in the Cognition, Memory and Intelligence theme, visit the Bulletin.

Crossing Boundaries: The Movement of People, Goods and Ideas

As our world grows “smaller,” our everyday lives are increasingly affected by global events. This theme is designed for students interested in global connections and their impacts both local and far away. Historically cultures intermingle, adopt, communicate with each other through voluntarily (migration/immigration) and involuntarily (war, conflict and displacement) movement of people, ideas and goods. Migration of people across political boundaries is a social, political, scientific and economic issue, presenting both great challenges and great opportunities. Migration also has a scientific perception: Scientists investigate topics as diverse as gene migration, population genetics and the psychological effect of migration on the young minds and adult behavior. Currently, scarcely any country in the world is not affected in some way by migration. Not only does migration reward interdisciplinary study; it demands it, if we are to begin to grasp its complexity and respond effectively.

Students studying this theme will investigate a wide range of questions about global boundaries, from a wide range of perspectives: Why does migration occur? What effects does it have on migrating peoples and on those who receive migrants? How do our concepts of political sovereignty and economic justice shape our responses to migration, and how might migration shape those concepts in turn? How can international, national and local communities work together to relieve suffering and distribute resources equitably?

For courses in the Crossing Boundaries: The Movement of People, Goods and Ideas theme, visit the Bulletin.

Individuals and Communities

The nature of the relationship between the individual and the community remains a perennial question, at the heart of technological, political, religious and ecological thought. One cannot understand prominent human trends — like the tendency, both in history and in the present day, to cluster populations in urban environments — without attending to the longings of the individual for community and the reliance of the community on the individual. Yet the relationship between these two is fraught with ambiguity and tension. On the one hand, communities have amplified humanity’s potential to overcome injustice, suffering and human limitations. Communities have enabled individuals to mobilize, innovate and act collectively for the common good. On the other hand, communities have also identified, stigmatized and exterminated outsiders. By utilizing tools of oppression, such as prejudice and discrimination, communities have also stifled progress and catered to fears, bigotry and hatred.

To explore these ideas, courses in this theme might focus on specific communities, such as the Marquette University community; they might examine individual cities, like Milwaukee, as geographically defined communities that have shaped — and been shaped by — the individuals who live there; or they might refer to community as a unit of analysis more generally to examine “community-level” processes such as racial segregation, civic engagement, public education, small business development, health care and civil engineering. Courses congruent with this theme are not restricted to any single understanding or definition of “community” and instead will consider communities of many kinds and scales, and with many purposes: religious, political, intellectual, geographical, ecological or virtual, to name only few.

For courses in the Individuals and Communities theme, visit the Bulletin.

Expanding Our Horizons

A defining characteristic of human beings is our desire to ask questions and to explore the unknown. We spend our lives seeking to understand our origins, probing the boundaries of the universe and uncharted frontiers, and investigating unsolved mysteries. Yet each new discovery reveals additional limitations that must be explored if knowledge and understanding are to proceed. Our impulse to expand our horizons can be seen in several traits: our innate, human creativity; our pursuit of new technologies that better respond to our challenges and provide greater insight into the unknown; and our use of imagination and inventiveness to examine our relationship to the world in which we live. Courses in this theme will focus on how the process of discovery--through art, scientific research, and other modes of seeking answers to fundamental questions--expands our understanding of the value of life and enriches our interaction with our communities, the planet, and the universe. Additionally, courses in this theme may engage the ways in which human activity and advancing technology must be weighed against immediate and long-term consequences, like climate change and pollution, in order to create sustainable solutions for the future.

For courses in the Expanding Our Horizons theme, visit the Bulletin.


To declare or change their Discovery Tier theme, undergraduate students in the MCC should visit the Office of the Registrar's webpage: How do I Declare or Change My Marquette Core Curriculum (MCC) Discovery Tier Theme?

For more information, visit the Marquette University Undergraduate Bulletin.