Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

Political Science

Chair, 2007-08: Kris Thalhammer, comparative politics, Latin American politics

Faculty, 2007-08: Jo Beld, American politics, public policy; Douglas Casson, political theory, American constitutional law; J. Patrick Dale, Comparative politics, Russian, Eurasian, and European politics; Shirin Deylami, Political theory, Islamic theory and feminist theory; Daniel Hofrenning, American politics, public policy; Serena Laws, American constitutional law; Anthony Lott, international relations, global enviromental politics; Don Ostrom, American politics; Jonathan Peterson, American politics, political psychology; Katherine Tegtmeyer-Pak, comparative politics, Asian politics, international relations

Political science is the systematic study of government, politics, and public policies in the United States and around the world. Students in political science courses learn to frame thoughtful questions, consider diverse perspectives, marshal convincing evidence, and communicate with clarity and conviction about the major issues of public life. Many political science courses satisfy general education requirements (see below). The Political Science Department shares faculty and courses with American studies, Asian studies, environmental studies, Hispanic studies, Russian studies, and women’s studies. It also cooperates with the Education Department in its social studies education major.

The study of political science is often combined with majors in English, economics, history, philosophy, foreign language, or any of a number of interdisciplinary majors and concentrations. Many political science students go on to complete graduate and professional degrees, not only in political science but also in law, education, public policy, international affairs, management and administration, or communications. Our graduates become policy analysts, teachers, legislators, advocates, attorneys, business owners, consultants, public relations managers, ambassadors, administrators, researchers, and journalists. The study of political science enriches students’ experience of the liberal arts and prepares them to engage in public life as responsible citizens and reflective leaders.


The political science major provides broad exposure to the discipline and develops skills in critical thinking, systematic inquiry, and effective writing and speaking. Students majoring in political science complete courses in four areas: American politics and public policy, comparative politics, international relations, and political theory. Political science majors also encounter and apply a variety of approaches to studying political behavior and public policy, with particular emphasis on social scientific inquiry. Advanced seminars and independent study courses provide opportunities for specialized study and advanced research. Off-campus courses, internships, and other experiential learning experiences engage students with the realities of public life.


Students majoring in political science must complete a minimum of nine courses in the discipline, including no more than three Level I courses, one course introducing research methods (Political Science 220, Analyzing Politics and Policy), and no fewer than two Level III courses.

Majors must include at least one course from each of the four subfields: American politics and public policy (111, 114, 115, 246, 255, 272, 311); comparative politics (112, 117, 252, 256, 264, 282, 283, 367, 386); international relations (119, 121, 245, 257, 258, 281, 285, 321) and political theory (113, 222, 249, 259, 260, 270, 384). The subfield designation of Political Science Topics (199, 299), Independent Study (298), Independent Research (398), Seminar (399), Interim courses or other courses not listed above depends on the content of the course in a given semester; students should consult with their advisers and with the department academic administrative assistant to determine the appropriate subfield for one of these courses. All Level III courses are offered as seminars with two prerequisites: PS 220 and one other course in the relevant subfield.

Students may designate a selected Statistics course (110, 212, 262, 266, or 312) OR one additional semester of language beyond the level of proficiency required for general education (French, German, or Spanish numbered above 232 or Chinese, Greek, Latin, Japanese, Norwegian, or Russian numbered above 231) as one of their nine courses in the political science major. Additional study in statistics and/or foreign language is especially recommended for students considering graduate study.

Political science majors are also encouraged to seek out opportunities for experiential or applied study through internships, off-campus study, on-campus courses with an experiential component, or independent projects under faculty supervision. Up to two off-campus courses instructed by non-St. Olaf faculty may be included in the major. An internship for academic credit may also count toward the major, although internships cannot be used to satisfy subfield requirements. Additional suggestions and guidelines for including off-campus work and experiential study in the political science major are available in the department; students are encouraged to consult with their advisers in making their plans.


The Political Science Department offers courses that satisfy general education requirements in Human Behavior and Society (HBS), Historical Studies in Western Culture (HWC), Multicultural Studies (MCS), and Ethical Issues and Normative Perspectives (EIN). In addition, all Level III courses are designated Courses with Writing (WRI).


Distinction in political science is awarded to graduating students whose work reflects the qualities of exemplary scholarship in the discipline: theoretical competence, skillful research, analytic ability, original thinking, clear and compelling discourse, and significance for public life. In addition to meeting minimum grade point average requirements (3.8 within the major), senior candidates for distinction submit for departmental review a major research paper demonstrating these qualities. Candidates must notify the department chair of their intention to seek distinction in the first week of the spring semester and must submit their distinction papers no later than April 15. Further information on distinction in political science is available in the department or on the department’s website.


Political science students may choose from a rich assortment of domestic and international off-campus study opportunities, some during Interim and others lasting a semester or more (see Index). They can also arrange for credited internships in a wide variety of settings, from law offices and campaign organizations to the national or state legislature. Further information on internships, Interim off-campus course offerings, and other special programs such as the Washington Semester and international programs with political science credit, is available in the department or from the Office of International and Off-Campus Studies.


111 American Politics

The promise of American politics is the equal freedom of all. How does practice match principles? What roles do class and race play? Do interest groups and political parties foster democracy? This course is designed not only to help students understand American government and politics but also to motivate them to be active and informed participants. Offered annually.

112 Comparative Politics

Why do some societies have democratic political systems and others authoritarian ones? What is democracy? Is it the norm or the exception? The course provides a foundation for the understanding of contemporary political regimes. It applies the major concepts of comparative analysis to the political systems of Western and non-Western societies. Offered annually.

113 Introduction to Political Theory

This course is an introduction to some of the central, interrelated concepts and questions of political theory. Some of the readings will be drawn from recognized classics in the field while others will arise from contemporary debates about political issues and cultural diversity within the U.S. The course pays considerable attention to historical shifts in political thought but is not designed to provide a chronology of the great Western political thinkers. Instead, this course aims to provoke and sustain a semester-long exploration of what it means to be a political actor -- that is, a citizen -- and what it means to think about politics. Offered annually.

117 Politics and Human Rights

What makes a person capable of repression? Who obeys morally unjust orders to torture or kill innocent victims? What causes genocide? Who risks his or her life to defend others' rights? Using case studies from around the world, this course looks at various explanations for the range of ways individuals respond to immoral government actions, with special emphasis on theories of political psychology.

119 The Problem of War

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the long tradition of debate concerning the nature and legitimacy of war. The course explores the reality of war, the revulsion of violence and the possibility of just war through texts ranging from Thucydides, Aquinas, and Freud. The course explores contemporary debates in light of moral and empirical arguments learned.

121 International Relations

War and peace, justice and power -- these are age-old topics of the politics among nations. This course examines them by emphasizing certain problem areas in the world and evaluating the principal theories for understanding international politics. Offered annually.

220 Analyzing Politics and Policies

This course explores the diverse modes of inquiry in the discipline of political science. Broadly centered around the question, "How do you know?," students focus on different methods of locating and collecting data, reviewing political texts and contested concepts, and constructing theoretical explanations of political phenomena. Prerequisite: one previous course in department. Offered both semesters.

222 Politics

An exploration of the key words and concepts of politics (nation, government, constitution, revolution, law, justice, rights, wealth, power and status), this course is designed to assist students in developing their understanding of political life. Students also learn by playing the simulation game, Monopolity. Offered during Interim.

245 Nationalism, Regionalism, Globalization in Asia

Currents of nationalism, regionalism and globalization organize political life around the world. What trends and policies promote regional integration? What forces frustrate integration? To answer these questions this course investigates security, economic, and cultural relations at the beginning of the 21st century within Asia and between Asia and Russia and the U.S. This course looks at the historical interaction of national, regional and global forces for additional answers. Prerequisites: Previous course in Asian Studies or Political Science, or permission of instructor.

246 Introduction to Public Policy

The product of the political process is public policy. This course surveys the major areas of domestic public policy in the United States: education, welfare, health, housing, the environment, and the economy with special attention to the impact of public policies on women and minorities.

247 Political Ethics and Public Policy

The course uses a range of historical and current case studies to examine the ways in which ethical standards are applied to complex political issues such as state use of violence, governmental secrecy and deceit, official disobedience, health-case access, welfare reform, and environmental regulation and protection. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T.

249 Distributive Justice

What distribution of wealth and the rewards from work and the possession of productive property is just? Are we entitled to economic support simply because we are members of society, or should we accept impoverishment as the just consequence of failure in the market? Students examine Christian and non-Christian ethical traditions from Europe and America which are devoted to answering these and related questions. Prerequisite: completion of BTS-T.

252 Politics and Development

Some formerly developing countries have found the way to join the ranks of the industrialized nations, others have not. What explains the difference? By introducing students to theories of modernization, dependency, world systems, order, class, revolution, state, and political economy, the course attempts to provide the framework for answering this question.

254 Japanese Politics and Society

This course familiarizes students with the social and political forces characterizing contemporary Japan, the world's second most powerful economy and a leading example of a successful liberal democracy. Students examine how Japanese citizens, interest groups, bureaucrats, and politicians are negotiating issues related to economic prosperity, the aging of their society, inequality, globalization, and international affairs. Students also consider major features of Japan's democracy -- governmental structures, electoral procedures, and political history. Recommended: One previous course in political science or Asian Studies.

255 Political Parties and Elections

Political parties have traditionally served to organize the American electoral process but not to govern. Is their role changing? This course examines party organization, candidate recruitment, campaign strategies, the role of the media, election financing, and citizen participation.

256 Central European Politics

Sandwiched between Germany and Russia, East-Central Europe, has exhibited distinctive political characteristics in its pre-communist, communist, and now post-communist periods. The region could not sustain democracy in the 1930s. Does it have a better chance of doing so in the 21st century? In pursuit of an answer, students examine the varying cultural, ethnic, and economic contexts of the region's contemporary political problems.

257 U.S. -- Latin American Relations

Often controversial, U.S.-Latin American relations occupy a special place in the foreign policy of the United States. Students compare differing views of political issues of importance to both regions and explore the emergence of U.S. power, interventionism, cooperation, revolution, collective security, the transition to democracy, and the influence of economic factors on the relationship between Latin America and the U.S.

258 World Politics

The goal of this course is to expand students' knowledge of conflict, cooperation, trade, development, inequality, imperialism, and power in world politics. The course uses substantive examples to teach about issues and institutions in "world politics" and to examine appropriate mechanisms to understand and explain international phenomena.

259 History of Classical Political Thought

Socrates founded political philosophy by asking the question "What is justice?" Ancient political philosophers followed his lead offering different answers. Students study the most famous works of classical political philosophy and their relation to larger themes in contemporary politics. The main texts assigned are Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics and selections from St. Augustine's City of God and St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa.

260 History of Modern Political Thought

Machiavelli founded modern political philosophy by asking "How does the ruler acquire power?" This course explores how modern political thinkers answered this question by changing the grounds of authority from religious and philosophical foundations to rational ones. Texts include Machiavelli's Prince and Hobbes's Leviathan, Locke's Second Treatise, Rousseau's Social Contract, Marx's Communist Manifesto, and Nietzsche's Use and Abuse of History.

264 Latin American Politics

How do the peoples of Latin America participate politically? How do domestic politics interact with national and international economics? How do states treat challenges posed by migration and by desires for "modernization" and democracy in a context of authoritarian legacy and debt? Students examine how Latin American politics work, focusing on Mexico, parts of Central America, the Caribbean, the Andean Region, and the Southern Cone.

270 Family Values

Students examine ethical issues related to family life in the United States. Students are introduced to a variety of ethical and moral theories and consider their implications for U.S. family structures, family choices, and public policies affecting families. Topics include the nature and purpose of the family; the composition and habits of families; the family as a school of justice; and public policy debates on marriage, divorce, abortion, child care, and welfare. Prerequisite: BTS-T.

272 American Constitutional Law: Power

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the principles of American constitutional law as well s the political struggles that shaped them. The course focuses not only on constitutional doctrine, but also on competing interpretations and political effects of landmark decisions. This course emphasizes debates over civil rights and civil liberties that have been central to modern Supreme Court jurisprudence.

273 Minnesota State Politics

The course focuses on the process and substance of Minnesota State Government. Among the topics receiving attention will be health care, education, transportation, and taxes. The class meets daily at the capitol in St. Paul. Students will question, in a seminar format, state legislators, executive branch officials, judges, journalists, lobbyists, and other involved in state government. Students read one or more textbooks as well as a daily metropolitan newspaper. Offered during Interim 2009.

278 Ambition and the Vocation of Leadership

This course explores the ethics of ambition and leadership from a variety of normative perspectives. By studying historical examples and theoretical approaches from Plato to the present day, students learn to reflect on amibition as an irrepressible human passion and an unavoidable element of civic leadership. Students also consider the ways in which their own ambition might relate to their vocation. Prerequisites: completion of BTS-B and BTS-T. Offered alternate years.

281 American Foreign Policy

American foreign policy continues to be one of the chief activating forces of world politics. This course is designed to sharpen students' understanding of it by introducing them to theories of policy making, domestic and foreign sources of policy and the impact of policy decisions upon the international environment.

282 Russian and Eurasian Politics

The course examines continuity and change in Russian political culture. The institutions and politics between the Soviet and Post Soviet periods under the leadership of Yeltsin and Putin are explored. The course considers Russia as an energy-exporting state. The varied political developments of former Soviet republics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia are compared and contrasted. Offered Fall Semester.

283 European Social Democracy

This course examines the European working classes' struggle for political representation and social welfare after World War II. Attention is given to the Norwegian, French, British, and Czech cases. The course inquires whether social democracy has become a victim of its own success. Offered annually, Fall Semester.

285 International Law

Once the purview of diplomats and generals, international law has broken those narrow confines and is becoming a part of traditional practice in areas of business, environment, human rights, and criminal law. This course introduces students to this vast and changing subject from a liberal arts perspective, including its history, theory, and practice.

294 Internship

Internships are available in a wide variety of public and private institutions including the state legislature, lobbying agencies, law firms, media organizations, corporate public affairs, and executive agencies.

298 Independent Study

After completion of three courses in political science, students may approach a member of the department faculty and propose a course of study not currently offered to be conducted in tutorial fashion.

299 Topics in Political Science

The department periodically offers special topics courses. The specific title of the course will be listed in the Class and Lab Schedule when it is offered.

311 Seminar in American Politics

This seminar will introduce the core questions, concepts, and theories of the field of American politics. With topics varying from term to term, students read both "cutting edge" research and the classic articles of the field. The methodology employed in the research is a central topic. Students will ask whether the methods were appropriate and helpful for answering the central questions of American politics. The course also includes a major research project. Prerequisites: Political Science 220, and one course in the subfield or permission of instructor.

321 Seminar in International Relations

The course introduces core questions, concepts, and theories of international relations. Topics vary, ranging from persistent problems and enduring themes in global relations to prominent questions confronting scholars of international relations. The course highlights methods and practices of political science research and includes a major research project. Prerequisites: Political Science 220, and one course in the subfield or permission of instructor.

350 Immigration and Citizenship

Mexicans dying to enter the U.S. Moroccans dying to enter Spain. Europeans reluctant to accept Turkey's EU bid out of fear of more migrants. Britons worried that migrants fuel terrorism. Headlines worldwide draw attention to transnational migration. This course covers explanations of entry control policy, integration and citizenship policy, and the political activities of migrants in the wealthy democracies. Alternative arguments emphasizing the role of economic interests, sovereignty, national identity, and gender are introduced.

367 Seminar in Latin American Politics

This course focuses on problems of inequality and democracy and the interconnection between them. Using theory, historical fictional, and factual accounts, students look for the human ramifications of these dramatic changes as well as exploring their nature and origins. Prerequisite: Political Science 220, and one course in the subfield of permission of instructor.

384 Seminar in Political Theory

This is an advanced course in the area of political thought. The topic, either a detailed study of major works or themes in political philosophy, will vary with each offering.

394 Internship

Students with ideas for internships are encouraged to approach instructors within the department in order to arrange supervision for credit. For Level III credit students must have successfully completed a Level II internship in the same area. Prerequisite: Political Science 294.

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: Determined by individual instructor. Offer based on department decision.

398 Independent Research

Students who have taken five political science courses, one of which is in the area of the proposed research, may propose an independent research project to a member of the departmental faculty. Prerequisite: Political Science 220, and one course in the subfield or permission of instructor.

399 Seminar

Seminars are special topics courses offered periodically by the department. The specific title of the seminar will be listed in the Class and Lab Schedule when it is offered. May be repeated if topics are different. Prerequisites: Political Science 220, and one course in the subfield or permission of instructor.

courses in other departments approved for political science credit

Asian Studies 177, Power and Press in Asia
Environmental Studies 201, Topics in Global Environmental Politics
Environmental Studies 225, Environmental Poltical Theory
Environmental Studies 276, Environmental Politics