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An academic discipline, or field of study, is a branch of knowledge which is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined (in part), and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties to which their practitioners belong.

Fields of study usually have several sub-disciplines or branches, and the distinguishing lines between these are often both arbitrary and ambiguous.


The University of Parismarker in 1231 consisted of four faculties: Theology, Medicine, Canon Law and Arts. Most academic disciplines have their roots in the mid- to late-19th century secularization of universities, when the traditional curricula were supplemented with non-classical languages and literatures, social sciences such as political science, economics and public administration, and natural science and technology disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering.

In the early 20th century, new disciplines such as education, sociology, and psychology were added. In the 1970s and 1980s, there was an explosion of new disciplines focusing on specific themes, such as media studies, women's studies, and black studies. Many disciplines designed as preparation for careers and professions, such as nursing, hospitality management, and corrections, also emerged in the universities. Finally, interdisciplinary scientific fields such as biochemistry and geophysics gained prominence as their contribution to knowledge became widely recognized.

New fields of study are often created through extending the ideas, theories, and methods of more traditional disciplines. For example, Freud created a sub-field of psychology with his new perspective of psychoanalysis.

There is no consensus on how some academic disciplines should be classified, e.g., whether anthropology and linguistics are social sciences disciplines or humanities disciplines. More generally, the proper criteria for organizing knowledge into disciplines are also open to debate.

An asterisk (*) denotes a field whose academic status is debated.



See also Branches of history

Languages and linguistics

See also List of languages, Branches of linguistics, Anthropological linguistics


Performing arts


See also Branches of philosophy


See also List of religions

Visual arts

Social sciences


See also Branches of anthropology


See also Branches of archaeology

Area studies

See also Branches of area studies

Cultural studies and ethnic studies


Gender and sexuality studies


* Cultural geography
:* Feminist geography
* Economic geography
:* Development geography
* Historical geography
:* Time geography
* Political geography & geopolitics
:* Military geography
:* Strategic geography

* Population geography
* Social geography
:* Behavioral geography
:* Children's geographies
:* Health geography
:* Tourism geography
* Urban geography
* Biogeography
* Climatology

* Coastal geography
* Geomorphology
* Geodesy
* Hydrology/Hydrography
:* Glaciology
:* Limnology
:* Oceanography
* Landscape ecology
* Palaeogeography

See also Branches of geography

Political science

See also Branches of political science


See also Branches of psychology, Types of psychotherapy


See also Branches of sociology

Natural sciences

Space sciences

See also Branches of astronomy

Earth sciences

See also Branches of earth sciences

Life sciences

See also Branches of life sciences


See also Branches of chemistry


See also Branches of physics

Formal sciences

Computer sciences

See also Branches of computer science and ACM Computing Classification System



See also Branches of mathematics and AMS Mathematics Subject Classification


Systems science

Professions and Applied sciences


Architecture and design





See also Branches of engineering

Environmental studies and Forestry

Family and consumer science

Health sciences

See also Branches of medicine

Human physical performance and recreation*

Journalism, mass media and communication


Library and museum studies

Military sciences

Public affairs

Social work



  1. History of Education, Encyclopædia Britannica (1977, 15th edition), Macropaedia Volume 6, p. 337

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