Political Science

Why take courses in this discipline?

The aim of political science is to be able to simplify and systematize political processes in order to identify general patterns from the complexity of political life. Our courses address questions regarding:

  • Who has power and how did they get it?
  • What issues become politically mobilized?
  • How are political decisions made?
  • How do cultural beliefs, social structures, and political institutions affect those decisions?
  • What produces political stability and what facilitates change?
  • What is political leadership and what forces shape the relationship between leaders and citizens?
  • What interests, opportunities, and constraints shape political outcomes?

Political science courses expose students to the leading conversations and findings that answer these questions. It provides them with sophisticated reasoning and data analysis skills to assess the strength of the evidence that supports those arguments and to choose among them.

How does the discipline contribute to the liberal arts?

Our political science curriculum and learning goals are closely aligned with the core priorities of the College’s liberal arts education. By the time they graduate, we expect our majors to have developed the following skills:

  • identify, summarize, and criticize complex arguments and texts through lucid oral and written expression
  • demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge and understanding of the major concepts and theories that inform political science
  • differentiate empirical and normative arguments in a text and construct reasoned responses to both
  • show a basic ability to understand, apply, and criticize formal, quantitative, and qualitative methods of research
  • display appropriately broad knowledge of political institutions and processes in the United States, other nations, and the world
  • design and conduct independent research in political science (in a seminar setting, a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), or an independent study)
  • articulate their understanding of their own relationship to the political world

How does a student get started?

Since a core of central concepts and theories is common to virtually all the department's courses, students of political science are required to take the introductory course, POL 101, where they will explore not only the themes but also disciplinary approaches to political questions. This course provides the necessary background for further work in the discipline and is required to access any POL 200-level course.

From there, students are expected to take at least one course in each of the three sub-fields in our discipline (American politics, comparative politics, and international relations) and two seminars. Students must have third-year standing or above to access our seminars as well as the necessary 200-level requirements.

Political science majors must take statistics (MAT-115 or STA-209) and two other courses from across the College’s curriculum to enhance their understanding of the political world from multidisciplinary perspectives. Appropriate internships, advanced research projects, and experiences off campus are encouraged to enrich the major.

AP/IB Credit

Advanced Placement and IB credits in government may be counted toward the major but cannot be substituted for POL 101.

Courses in Political Science

All Courses in Political Science

Regular 200-Level Courses

  • Politics of Congress
  • Constitutional Law and Politics
  • Political Parties
  • The Presidency
  • The Politics of the New Europe
  • Nationalism
  • Democratization and the Politics of Regime Change
  • African Politics
  • Politics of Russia
  • Politics of International Relations
  • International Political Economy
  • Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Choices

Regular Seminars

  • Advanced Seminar in American Politics
  • Advanced Seminar in Constitutional Law
  • Advanced Seminar in Comparative Politics
  • Advanced Seminar in U.S. Foreign Policymaking
  • Applied Policy Analysis
  • Political Economy of Development
  • Courts and Politics in Comparative Perspective
  • Islam and Politics

Recent Special Topics

  • Political Behavior and Public Opinion
  • Campaigns and Elections
  • Electoral Systems
  • Public Attitudes on American Democracy
  • Black Abolitionist Thought
  • Direct Democracy and Referenda
  • Democratic Decline in the U.S.
Sample Four-Year Plan for Political Science Major
Year Fall Spring
First POL 1O1 POL 2XX
Second POL 2XX, MAT 115 or STA 209 POL 2XX
Third OCS POL 2XX and/or 3XX
Fourth POL 2XX and/or POL 3XX POL 3XX

Contributions to Other Majors/Concentrations

Courses in political science contribute to concentrations in: 

Department Events and Opportunities

Many of our students work on independent research projects in MAPs or independent study, or as research assistants to a faculty member of the department. Several have become student assistants for the Grinnell National Poll and in DASIL.

Majors in political science are well-positioned to compete for a variety of national awards. The Center for Careers, Life, and Service provides up-to-date information about the scholarships and fellowships and, in some cases, has a role in administering the application process. The following opportunities have been especially attractive to political science majors: Carnegie Junior Fellowship, Fulbright Scholarship, Marshall Scholarship, Mitchell Scholarship, Rhodes Scholarship, Harry Truman Scholarship, and Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

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