Ten courses, including Political Philosophy (180), American Government (120), International Relations (170), any course in Comparative Politics (150, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 260, 261, 264, 270, and, when appropriate, 275, 276, 190, 290), and a 390 seminar. This seminar is normally to be taken on campus during the junior or senior year. No course may be taken Pass/Fail. Normally five courses must be taken in residence.


Six courses. Course work submitted for the minor must be from at least four of the subfields: political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and international relations. Normally three courses must be taken in residence.

Suggested curricular flow through the major

There is no necessary or preferred “path” through the Political Science major. Many students arrive on campus knowing that Political Science is the major for them. Many other majors discover their interest in politics and government after taking classes or becoming involved in campus activities.

The POSC major was designed to provide students with a solid foundation in the four subfields of Political Science (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Philosophy) and to enable students to tailor the major to their own interests as much as possible. In addition, the major’s flexibility allows students to complete the major while studying off campus and to combine the major with a second major.

Completion of the Political Science major requires ten courses.

  • Students must take POSC 120, POSC 170, POSC 180, one Comparative Politics course, and a senior seminar.
  • The other five courses are chosen by the student.
  • Some of our majors pursue an interest in a region of the world (e.g., Latin America, East Asia, Africa, or Western Europe).
  • Some of our majors focus on foreign policy and global politics.
  • Some of our majors concentrate on American politics and political  institutions.

The department offers courses in all of these areas and members of the department specialize in each of these areas.

Anyone considering the Political Science major should feel free to contact members of the department with any questions about the major. The faculty will gladly answer questions and explain the strengths and requirements of the major.

Independent study and independent research

Many majors take courses in independent study, independent research, and student/faculty collaborative research, as well as internships. A major will receive political science credit for one internship (if taken for academic credit) if the subject matter is within the field of political science and if the academic advisor is a full-time member of the Political Science department, a faculty member of a Dickinson overseas program, or a faculty member of an off-campus program with which Dickinson College is affiliated. A major may petition the chair to count an additional internship as a political science course. A major will receive political science credit for all courses of independent study (or research) if supervised by full-time members of the Political Science department. A student may petition the chair to count an independent study supervised by any other individual. If students have any questions about receiving political science credit for internships or independent studies, they should consult the department chairperson.


The honors in the major option involves one semester of independent research in the spring of the senior year leading to a defense of a major project before the political science faculty at the end of the spring semester. Candidates interested in pursuing honors in political science must obtain a faculty supervisor during the fall semester and submit an annotated bibliography and a well-developed thesis statement explaining the project's goal by December 1. A grade point average of 3.50 in the major and 3.25 overall are required to undertake an honors project. Students who plan to complete the honors option are strongly encouraged to take POSC 239: Research Methods, in their junior year.  Detailed guidelines can be found on the department's web page.

Opportunities for off-campus study

Majors may apply to spend: (1) their junior year in Bologna, Italy, as students at Dickinson's K. Robert Nilsson Center for European Studies specializing in European and International Studies, or (2) in Washington, D.C. in The Washington Center Program specializing in a wide variety of programs, such as American Government, Justice, Foreign Policy, and International Development. Please see the appropriate coordinator for these and many other off-campus study possibilities.


The following courses are grouped according to the four major subfields of political science: political theory, American politics, comparative politics, and international relations. Introductory and intermediate courses are numbered in the 100s; advanced courses are numbered in the 200s. Within the 100 and 200 ranges, numbering sequences reflect subdivisions of the field, not level of difficulty.

Political Theory

180 Political Philosophy
An introduction to the history of political thought, focused on such problems as the nature of justice, the meaning of freedom, the requirements of equality, the prevalence of moral dilemmas in political life, the question of whether we ought to obey the law, and the importance of power in politics. We will also discuss how these issues continue to resonate today.
This course is cross-listed as PHIL 180.

202 Recent Political Thought
This class aims to show the breadth and vitality of the field of political theory today. It does this by deepening and broadening the account of the discipline offered in POSC 180, discussing the most important recent accounts of justice, freedom, and equality, and adding consideration of democracy, rights, power, culture, community, and cosmopolitanism. We will also explore issues of exploitation and exclusion relating to gender, class, race, and human interaction with the natural environment, and consider how recent theorists have tried to challenge these practices. The class also explores the contours of political theory as an academic field of study, considering the disciplinary contributions of fields such as philosophy, political science, international relations, legal studies, and history, and major ideologies such as liberalism, conservatism, socialism, anarchism, and feminism.
This course is cross-listed as PHIL 280. Prerequisite: 180 or PHIL 180, or permission of the instructor.

204 Competing Political Ideologies
This class surveys the major ideologies that compete for political support in Western societies, such as liberalism, conservatism, and socialism, as well as radical alternatives (anarchism and fascism), and new perspectives such as feminism and ecologism/environmentalism. We will also examine the nature of ideology, and whether it is possible to develop a neutral, non-ideological perspective on politics.
Prerequisite: 180, or permission of the instructor.

205 American Political Thought
An historical exposition of the ideals of American political culture. Concepts that will be addressed include natural law, liberty, constitutionalism, democracy, equality, and privacy.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

206 Multiculturalism
How can ethnic minorities be incorporated into Western democracies as equal citizens? Must the state support the continuation of cultural practices and traditions? What if those practices conflict with the freedom and equality of members of minority groups, especially of women or children? These are among the most vexed and pressing issues for many democracies and a key part of recent debate in political theory. They raise major philosophical questions, such as how we can treat people as equals while respecting the differences between them and what the limits of toleration are. We will survey the main recent responses to these questions.
Prerequisite: 180, or permission of the instructor.

208 Justice in World Politics
An examination of how states ought to make ethical decisions about policies of global scope. Should asylum seekers and economic migrants be granted access to social services? How must states fight wars? How ought resources to be distributed between countries? We will explore the philosophical underpinnings of the arguments that have been developed in response to at least two of these questions.
This course is cross-listed as PHIL 285. Prerequisite: 170, 180 or PHIL 180, or permission of the instructor.

American Politics

120 American Government
A basic introductory course in American federal government which emphasizes its structure and operation. Special attention is given to the executive, legislative, and judicial processes.

220 Constitutional Law I
An analysis of constitutional adjudication in the areas of separation of powers, federalism, and economic rights. Special emphasis is placed upon the idea of a written constitution and the role that judges play in our constitutional system. Topics include Watergate, war powers, and legislative veto.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

221 Constitutional Law II
An exploration of American constitutional rights. Both historical developments and contemporary issues are addressed. Topics include racial and sexual equality, affirmative action, seditious speech, and school prayer.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

222 Public Policy Analysis
The purpose of this course is to acquaint students with the concepts embraced in policy analysis and the methods employed by those individuals who study and analyze public policy. It is designed not only to provide a working knowledge of technique but also a knowledge of the intellectual support for that technique. Some emphasis will be placed upon the economic approach to public policy and the implications of that approach.
Prerequisite: one course in political science or economics.

231 Public Administration
An analysis of the organization and functioning of the national bureaucracy in a democratic society. Special attention is given to presidential management, theories of organization, independent regulatory agencies and bureaucratic pathology, financial and personnel administration, and administrative responsibility.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

241 Race and Gender in American Politics
This course will examine the role of race and gender in the American political process, paying special attention to identity politics and how interests achieve representation in the electoral and legislative arenas. How do social movements achieve (or fail to achieve) social change? How do race and gender affect the politics and policy outcomes of areas such as immigration, affirmative action, and health care?
Prerequisite: 120 or permission of the instructor.

242 Political Behavior
Cultural, social, and psychological factors which contribute to forms and directions of political behavior. Special attention is given to American voting behavior, ethnic political behavior, and personality influences on politics. Field surveys are undertaken to illustrate contemporary trends.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

243 Mass Media and American Politics
Examines the causes, content, and consequences of political news, primarily focusing on television. It will explore the ways in which audience characteristics, organizational routines, and professional socialization influence the style and substance of the news. The content of news will be analyzed for: the three branches of government, war, foreign governments, crises, and presidential campaigns. The impact of the media on political behavior will also be discussed. Content analysis will be used by students to systematically analyze television network news.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

244 Public Opinion
Examines the origins, nature, and impact of public opinion in the United States. The ways that the public's attitudes are shaped and used by interest groups, politicians, and the mass media will be discussed. Methods of measuring public opinion, with special attention to polling, will be studied.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

245 Political Parties and Interest Groups
A study of the functions, structures, and operations of American political parties and interest groups. Special attention is given to the techniques of running a campaign for office, to the role of the media in superseding American parties, and to the interactions of government with the two largest "interest groups": business and labor.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

246 The Legislative Process
An analysis of the legislative branch of government, especially Congress. Emphasis is placed upon the legislature as a social system, the decision-making process, the interrelationships with the political parties and interest groups, the executive and the judiciary.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

247 The American Presidency
An in-depth analysis of the nature and significance of "the Man" and "the Office," including constitutional development, presidential roles and customs, the recruitment process, the executive branch, and the politics of the presidency.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

248 The Judiciary
A study of the structure, processes, and institutional role of the American judiciary. Topics may include: the adversarial system, criminal and civil procedure, implementation of court decisions, judicial decision-making, legal development, and legal reasoning. Special attention is given to the federal judiciary, especially the Supreme Court.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor. This course is cross-listed as LAWP 248.

249 American Federalism
This course examines the practical policy consequences of America's constitutional alliance between 50 state governments and the general union. Politics in the American states will provide the substantive focus for discussions about the complex and ever-changing intergovernmental relationships that constitute American federalism today.
Prerequisite: 120, or permission of the instructor.

Comparative Politics 

150 Comparative Politics
An introduction to comparative political analysis with applications to political systems, processes, and issues in countries of the Third World and in advanced industrial states alike. The purpose of the course is to learn to observe systematically, to analyze political phenomena, and to distinguish and evaluate the assumptions underlying alternative approaches to the study of politics.

250 West European Government and Politics
This course provides a general overview to West European politics and the different political configurations that exist in the major West European countries. The course outlines some of the common features of the region's ongoing political development (e.g. democratization, institutionalization of the welfare state and political integration within the European Union) as well as the differences among today's national systems of political organizations.

251 Latin American Government and Politics
An introduction to the politics of contemporary Latin America. Emphasis is placed upon the varied political institutional responses to socio-economic change in the Americas. Major countries to be analyzed include Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba.
Prerequisite: one course in political science or Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies. This course is cross-listed as LALC 251.

252 African Government & Politics
An introduction to the politics of contemporary, sub-Saharan Africa. After analyzing the historical and socio-economic context of African politics, the course examines a number of contrasting political systems in depth. The final section of the course discusses the current problems of South Africa from an international perspective.
Prerequisite: one course in political science.

253 Russian Politics
An introduction to contemporary Russian politics and policy, set against the backdrop of both the communist legacy and traditional Russian political culture. Coverage includes political institutions such as the presidency and the legislature, political processes and behavior such as elections and voting, and key policy issues such as economic policy. The course will conclude with an examination of Russia's evolving place and role in the international system.
Prerequisite: one course in political science or permission of the instructor.

254 Comparative Asian Governments and Politics
Comparison of selected Asian political systems with special attention given to the emergence of new nations from old cultures, contrasting patterns of political and economic development, and the current state of political affairs in each country studied.
Prerequisite: one course in political science or East Asian Studies.

255 Chinese Politics
An introduction to the contours of contemporary politics as shaped by traditional and revolutionary legacies, the institutions of state socialism, China's underdevelopment and struggles over power and policy.

256 The City
An introduction to urban politics from a broadly comparative vantage point. Topics include the socioeconomic and cultural bases of city politics, power struggles and policy making within urban political arenas, and the relationship between urbanization and political development.

257 Democracy & Democratization
A comparative examination of democratic politics and government with an emphasis on transitions from authoritarianism to democracy and on the consolidation or collapse of democratic institutions. Case studies and regional analyses from Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa will be combined with examination of broader issues such as the advantages and disadvantages of democracy, the question of cultural or economic preconditions to successful democratization, and the impact of democracy on international relations.

258 Human Rights
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights embodies a global consensus on the fundamental importance of human rights as a political value. But the idea and its practical applications have provoked intense controversy around the world on issues such as freedom of expression, capital punishment and torture, gender and sexuality, religious freedom, social and economic justice, and cultural and minority rights.
Prerequisite: one social science course or permission of the instructor.

259 Law, Politics, and Society in Asia
This course examines the interaction between law, legal institutions and citizens in China, Japan, India and Thailand. Covering history and the contemporary scene, course focuses on how law works in practice and is understood and used by ordinary people in Asia. It covers areas such as marriage and divorce, the legal profession, lost property, civil rights, the environment, sexuality, mediation, land development and property, among others. Comparisons between the United States and Asia, as well as between Asian countries, will be emphasized.
This course is cross-listed as EASN 259 and LAWP 259.

260 Media & Politics in the Middle East & North Africa
Together we will try to answer the questions: What roles do media technologies and practices (particularly new digital technologies) play in the politics of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries? How do states respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by changes in the communication ecosphere? We will study the development of mass media and its regulation in the MENA region. Students will collaborate to produce presentations for the class on particular problems in the role of media in politics and society, and will also complete individual critical and reflective works. The class will make extensive use of digital and social media, seeking to understand their political and social impact partly through first-hand experience.
This course is cross-listed as MEST 260. Offered every two years.

261 Authoritarianism & Change in the Middle East & North Africa
This course will examine the most important features of the different varieties of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) and seek to explain the different outcomes of popular uprisings against them and other pressures to reform. Participants will study the range of governing institutions and traditions among modern MENA regimes. Students will learn to analyze competing explanations for the persistence of authoritarianism in the region—for example: explanations derived from culture; from abundant hydrocarbons resources; from colonialism; and from historical institutions—as well as the prospects for the spread of more democratic government in the region.
This course is cross-listed as MEST 261.

264 Politics, Society & Culture in Israel
This course provides an overview of the major political, social, and cultural forces that have shaped, and continue to shape, modern Israel. It covers the origins of the Zionist movement, political leadership, foreign relations, parties, the electoral system and the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict more broadly. In society, it focuses on the major cleavages in Israeli society, civil society, consumerism, as well as the impact of the Holocaust and the role of the Israel Defense Forces. The cultural component centers largely on poetry, short stories and changes in popular music. The course is intended to add nuance and depth to the often one-dimensional portrayal of Israel in the media and provide students with the analytical tools to better understand events in the Middle East.
This course is cross-listed as MEST 264 and JDST 264.

International Relations

170 International Relations
An introduction to global politics which examines the interaction of states, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in the world arena. Topics covered include traditional concerns such as war, balance of power, the UN and international law along with the more recent additions to the agenda of world politics such as international terrorism, human rights, and economic globalization.
This course is cross-listed as INST 170.

270 European Union
The European Union (EU) remains a work-in-progress, and this course will help students to contextualize the EU's development since the mid-1950s, understand the way that it currently functions, and think about how it is likely to evolve in the future. Substantively, the course covers the theory and history of European integration; the EU's unusual (and evolving) institutional structure and political processes; the major policy areas of the EU; and the power dynamics between the EU and it member states.
This course is cross-listed as INST 270.

271 Ethics and International Security
A course in applied ethics that examines the role ethical considerations both do and should play in the pursuit of national and international security objectives. Among the specific topics to be examined are the decision to go to war, rules governing how wars are fought, the ethics of weapons of mass destruction, the ethics of terrorism, the torture debate, economic sanctions, and humanitarian intervention.
Prerequisite: 170, or permission of the instructor. This course is cross-listed as INST 271.

273 International Political Economy
This course examines the politics of global economic relations. Specific topics discussed include: trade and protectionism, international monetary relations, foreign direct investment, global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and World Trade Organization (WTO), regional economic integration (e.g. the European Union [EU] and North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], economic development, and the economic emergence of China and India. The larger issue serving as the backdrop to all of this is economic globalization -- its significance, sources, and consequences.
Prerequisite: 170, or permission of the instructor. This course is cross-listed as INST 273.

275 Studies in Modern European Politics
To be offered only in Bologna.

276 Studies in Modern European Politics
To be offered only in Bologna.

277 International Politics of the Middle East
This course examines key factors and events in the formation of the modern Middle East state system and evolving patterns of conflict and cooperation in the region. Students will apply a range of analytical approaches to issues such as the conflicts between Arabs and Israelis, Iraq's wars since 1980, and the changing place of the region in global politics and economics.
This course is cross-listed as MEST 266 and INST 277.

280 American Foreign Policy
A survey of U.S. foreign policy since World War II. American approaches to such issues as containment, detente, arms control, deterrence, international law, and third world economic development will be discussed. Students will also address issues of U.S. foreign policy formulation, including the roles of the public, Congress, and the president in the foreign policy process.
Prerequisite: 170 or INST 170 or permission of the instructor. This course is cross-listed as INST 280.

281 American National Security Policy
Analysis of formulation and implementation of American national security policy within the context of American society and the international system. National security will not be considered simply in a military/strategic sense but as connoting the preservation of the core values of a society.
Prerequisite: POSC 170 or 120 or INST 170 or permission of the instructor. This course is cross-listed as INST 281.

Special Topic Courses

190 Selected Topics in Political Science
Topics not normally studied in depth in the regular offerings are analyzed in these special topics courses. Recent offerings have included: Contemporary Political Ideologies, Mexican Politics, Political Thought of the Enlightenment, Politics in Fiction, Separation of Powers, The Bill of Rights, and Italian Politics.

239 Research Methods
Helps the student answer (in the affirmative) the question, "Is political science a science?" Students will learn how to generate and test hypotheses through creating and executing research designs. Survey research, experimentation, content analysis, participant observation, and other methodologies will be studied. Although no prior knowledge of statistics is necessary, Math 120 and/or Math 121 are helpful. This class is especially recommended for prospective graduate students in the social sciences.

290 Selected Topics in Political Science
Topics not normally studied in depth in the regular offerings are analyzed in these special topics courses. Recent offerings have included: Contemporary Political Ideologies, Mexican Politics, Political Thought of the Enlightenment, Politics in Fiction, Separation of Powers, The Bill of Rights, and Italian Politics.
Prerequisite for 290 is dependent upon topic.

390 Seminar
A seminar in selected topics in Political Science. Recent offerings have included: Political Leadership, Crime and Punishment, Democratization, Presidential Elections, Revolutions and Political Thought, Constitutional Politics, International Regimes, Russian Leadership Politics, Central American Politics, and Comparative Political Modernization.
Not appropriate for first-year students.