Political Science (POL)Academic Catalog: 2019–2020

  • Katherine Knutson, Chairperson
  • Loramy Gerstbauer
  • Christopher Gilbert
  • Nevin Doran Hunter (Visiting, 2019-2020)
  • Lori Carsen Kelly (Visiting, 2019–2020)
  • Richard Leitch
  • Jill Locke

The Department of Political Science helps students develop an understanding of political processes, institutions, and the issues and problems of politics. Students learn to think critically about political life in a variety of settings. While the broad areas of study include political theory, comparison of different governments and political organizations, political behavior and institutions, and international relations, the focus of the department is on critical and analytical sophistication rather than simple mastery of a body of facts. The department’s curriculum emphasizes the development of research, writing, and analytical skills.

Because comparative perspective is vital to both an understanding of politics and a liberal arts education, the department urges majors to study abroad as part of their academic program. The department also encourages majors to pursue internships, domestic study opportunities, and relevant courses in other departments. All these experiences complement the department’s curriculum and objectives.

The department values collaboration with students in and out of the classroom. Students participate in faculty research projects, independent research supervised by faculty, and co-curricular activities such as Model United Nations, and Pi Sigma Alpha, the national political science honor society. Students meet individually with faculty members on a regular basis to discuss academics, career plans, internships, and other curricular and co-curricular activities.

Political Science courses serve the needs of students contemplating scholarship and teaching in political science, as well as professional careers such as law, business, journalism, and public services. More broadly, the department emphasizes approaches that nurture active, thoughtful, and creative participants in the civic life of their communities.


10 courses in Political Science, chosen in consultation with a departmental advisor, including:

  1. Level I courses: POL-110, POL-130 or POL-150, and POL-160.
  2. POL-200, Analyzing Politics, normally taken in the sophomore year.
  3. POL-399, a research seminar course normally taken in the senior year.
  4. Five additional courses, only one of which can be a Level I course and one must be Level III.

The research seminar course (POL-399) will normally be taken after completion of POL-200 and all required Level I courses. Each year several seminars will be offered and students should consult with their advisor to determine which one best fits their interests. Students are permitted to take more than one POL-399, but enrollment priority will be given to seniors who have not yet completed this major requirement.

A minimum of seven courses for the major must be taken from the department’s fall and spring offerings. No more than one course credit of internship during the fall and spring semesters can count toward the major. Internship credits cannot fulfill the Level III course requirement.

Majors are encouraged, with the help of their advisors, to select relevant courses in other disciplines (particularly the social sciences, philosophy, statistics, history, communications studies, and foreign languages); such courses do not count toward the major, however.

Students must earn at least a C- in all courses counting toward the major.

Political Science Major with Honors:

The major with Honors option is for those who wish to undertake a significant independent research project as a culmination of their coursework in political science. This opportunity may be particularly attractive for students who intend to enter graduate school in political science or related fields. Honors students work closely with a faculty advisor, think deeply about significant questions, and grow as researchers, writers, and political scientists. Writing a successful honors thesis demands a considerable amount of time, dedication, and perseverance. Before applying, students must consider the extent of other demands during the two semesters in which they will be working on their thesis.

The Political Science major with Honors is a two-semester program which requires participating students to complete a one-credit independent study (POL-391) as well as one of the research seminars offered by the department each year. Students enrolling in a thesis seminar during their senior year will complete their independent study in the semester immediately before or after their thesis seminar, with the decision to be made in consultation with the professor of their thesis seminar who will also supervise the independent study.

Participation in the major with honors program is by application due in the department chair’s office by the end of the second week of January Interim of the junior year for students intending to begin their work in the spring semester of their junior year, or by April 15 of the junior year for students intending to begin their work in the fall semester of their senior year. Applications will be reviewed by the faculty of the Political Science Department. No more than 10 percent of the graduating class of Political Science majors will be accepted into the major with Honors program.

The application must include the following:

  1. A cover letter setting forth the applicant’s reasons for wishing to pursue the major with Honors, including the name of the supervising political science faculty member;
  2. A copy of the student’s transcript or degree audit reflecting a minimum of five political science classes completed, a minimum 3.7 GPA in all Political Science courses taken, and a minimum 3.5 overall GPA (these GPA levels must be maintained throughout the program);
  3. A research proposal of 4-5 pages describing the intent, the topic area, and the method of study;
  4. A writing sample from a Political Science course.

Students with an academic offense (e.g., violation of the honor code), determined by standards set by Gustavus Adolphus College academic procedures, will not be eligible for the political science major with honors.

The major with Honors requires the completion of at least 11 courses in Political Science. These include the requirements for the regular major in Political Science as well as the independent study course described above.

Other requirements include formal presentation to the department of the thesis research proposal no later than the seventh week of the first semester of the honors thesis project. All major with Honors students formally present and successfully defend their completed thesis to political science faculty and interested students in the last two weeks of the semester during which the thesis is completed.


Five courses in Political Science, no more than three of which can be Level l.

Political Science Courses

110 U.S. Government and Politics (1 course) This course introduces students to the theory and practice of U.S. government, emphasizing the ability to evaluate and analyze political practices in terms of democratic values. Topics include concepts of democracy, the Constitution, political parties and elections, the three branches of the federal government, and public policy. SOSCI, Fall and Spring semesters.

130 International Relations (1 course) This course introduces students to the structures and processes of international politics and surveys the major global issues of our time. The course focuses on the functions of the modern nation-state system and the patterns of conflict and cooperation in contemporary international relations. The purpose of the course is to provide students with a basic understanding of how the international political system works and to help them develop their own perspective on global issues. This course counts toward the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies major/minor. SOSCI, Fall and Spring semesters.

150 Comparative Politics (1 course) This course introduces students to the comparative study of a variety of political systems. The course focuses on comparative analysis of various aspects of political systems, including historical legacies, political culture and society, political institutions and parties, citizen participation and group formation, leadership, and policy-making. Political systems are also evaluated in terms of their performance in economic development, political stability, and political change. Countries studied include: Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, Japan, India, Mexico, and Nigeria. SOSCI, Fall semester.

160 Political and Legal Thinking (1 course) This course introduces students to major themes in political and legal thought (e.g., justice, authority, power, equality/inequality, democracy, and the rule of law) through ancient, modern, and contemporary readings. Competing interpretive approaches, historical and political context, and intended audience of the readings will be considered. HIPHI, Fall and Spring semesters.

200 Analyzing Politics (1 course) This research methods course examines the means by which political scientists try to explain how political institutions work and how citizens think and act politically. Students will acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for conducting advanced research on political and social Issues. Students also will explore the use of statistics and quantitative methods to address research questions. Prerequisite: Open to sophomore and junior majors, others with permission of instructor; completion of Level I major requirements is recommended. Normally, majors should complete POL-200 before taking additional Level II and Level III courses in the department. Fall and Spring semesters.

210 The Politics of Poverty (1 course) Poverty has created a plethora of social, political, and economic consequences in the United States. Yet policymakers have never been in agreement over whether and how it should be addressed, primarily because proposed solutions raise fundamental questions over values, rights, and resources. What is the politics behind these proposed policy solutions? Which programs implemented to combat poverty have been judged more effective, and what are the consequences of enduring poverty in the United States? Fall semester, even years.

215 Political Parties and Elections (1 course) A study of the nomination and election of political candidates, with emphasis upon American presidential and congressional races. Political parties are examined from the viewpoint of their organization, voters, and government officials. Fall semester, even years.

220 U.S. Public Policy (1 course) Public policies impact the lives of American citizens every day but rarely do we stop to think about the factors influencing the development or implementation of those policies. This course examines the process of policymaking and the effects of public policy in America. Students learn about theoretical approaches to the study of public policy as well as specific policies such as education, social services, health care, immigration, environment, and others. Pre-requisite: POL-110 is recommended. SOSCIWRITI, Spring semester.

230 Latin American Politics (1 course) This course takes a comparative look at political institutions and processes in several Latin American nations. The majority of the course is designed around a combination of thematic issues and examination of individual countries and regions of Latin America. Themes that have dominated regional politics include economic inequality, the crafting of democratic institutions, populism, the legacy of human rights abuses, the interests of indigenous peoples, the Catholic Church, and the role of the United States in the region. This course counts toward the LALACS major/minor. Spring semester.

244, 344 Topics in Political Science (1 course) This course offers an in-depth analysis of a special topic in political science. The subject matter varies, but always focuses on some of the central concepts and problems of politics, such as the tension between freedom and social order, developing democratic institutions, the analysis of power and authority, and political ethics. Offered periodically.

250 The Politics of Developing Nations (1 course) How is it possible that we live together on a planet where many have incomes 100 times that of the poorest, and where your expected lifespan nearly doubles depending on the nation in which you were born? This course is concerned with the poor nations of the world and the institutions that govern them. What role does government play in the quality of life of the people of developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America? What factors inhibit and foster political order, freedom, and human dignity? We will examine the networked causes of human suffering in developing nations: colonial legacies, poverty, violent conflict, culture, and political and economic instability. We will evaluate the conflicting theories about the North-South Gap and how to bridge it. This course counts toward the African Studies minor and the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies major/minor. GLOBL, Fall semester.

255 The Politics of Japan and China (1 course) This course analyzes the domestic and international politics, economic development and social change of Japan and China. Prerequisite: Either POL-130 or POL-150 is recommended. GLOBL, Spring semester.

260 Environmental Politics (1 course) This course is an introduction to the theories, themes, selected issues, and contending viewpoints of environmental politics, from both a domestic and international perspective. By the end of the semester, course participants will appreciate how the environment has become “politicized” and the conflict over it pluralized; recognize the major actors in the policymaking process, their positions, and their strategies; understand the potential and limits of conflict and cooperation among these competing actors; and realize what can and is being done as part of this process. Fall semester, odd years.

280 Revolution, Resistance, and Liberation (1 course) This course will highlight theories of revolution, resistance, and liberation in politics. We will consider the nature of oppression, the agents of change, the sites of resistance, the means of revolution, and the ends of liberation from the perspectives of liberalism, Marxism, feminism, postmodernism, among others. We will take into account class, race, and gender; the internalization of what is perceived as “normal” by society; and the standards, if any, that can be used to critique practices across cultures. By drawing from modern, colonialist, and post-colonialist theories of revolution and resistance, we will consider if “dirty hands” are inevitable in politics, if violence or non-violence is the best means to liberation, and if truth can lead to reconciliation in the new society. This course counts toward the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies majors/minors. Offered occasionally.

285 Sex, Power, and Politics (1 course) This course explores how race, ethnicity, class, sex/ gender, and nationality shape law, policy, and social movements. Topics explored may include (but are not limited to) LGBTQ rights and politics, the sexual politics of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the politics of the second and third waves of feminism, and reproductive justice. This course counts toward the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies major/minor. Fall semester.

290 Law and Society (1 course) This discussion-based course explores the role of law in society and introduces a wide variety of topics related to law’s varying functions. It focuses on social and legal theory and analyzes law and legal institutions from a critical perspective. Some of the issues we will explore include the relationship between law and power, between law and morality, between law and politics, between law and race, and between law and gender. The course explores historical and current political, social, and legal controversies, including “hard” cases in constitutional law. Offered annually.

300 Empirical Political Analysis (1 course) This course offers thorough training in the primary empirical research methods used in political science research. Students will learn about quantitative and qualitative approaches to studying political science research questions, applying these methods through class exercises and research projects. The course includes a significant empirical research project on a topic of the student’s choice. Prerequisite: POL-200. Offered occasionally.

312 The U.S. Congress (1 course) This course examines the formal structure of Congress, the constraints and challenges faced by members of Congress, the nuances of the legislative process, and the concept of representation through traditional readings, lectures, and discussions. Prerequisite: POL-110 or permission of Instructor. Offered Fall semester, odd years.

325 Religion and Politics in America (1 course) This course offers an intensive analysis of the many connections between religion and the American political system. Students will first consider religion’s historical role in shaping American political culture. Other topics to be covered include the constitutional relationship between church and state, the religious dimensions of American political behavior, religious influences on political institutions and decision makers, religious interest group activity and its impact on public policy, and the salience of religious factors in contemporary politics. Prerequisite: junior or senior status. SOSCI, Fall semester, even years.

340 Issues for U.S. Foreign Policy (1 course) What priorities and goals drive United States foreign policy? This course challenges students to think about what the current role of the United States is in our world and what this role ought to be. How have U.S. foreign policy goals evolved historically? What are the major determinants of foreign policy decisions? What impact can citizens have on these decisions? Current foreign policy issues will be debated, encouraging students to develop their own positions. This course counts toward the Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies major/minor. Offered occasionally.

268, 368 Career Exploration, Internship (Course value to be determined) Off-campus employment experience related to the student’s major. See description of the Internship Program. Prerequisite: junior or senior status. Offered Fall and Spring semesters and Summer.

380 Feminist Political Thought (1 course) This seminar explores feminist engagements with some of the central concepts in politics and political theory, specifically freedom, action, justice, rights, and equality. This course counts toward the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies major/minor. Spring semester, even years.

390 U.S. Constitutional Law (1 course) This course introduces students to the central concepts, themes and controversies of U.S. constitutional law. Students will read judicial opinions in leading cases decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. The course also acquaints students with current scholarly debates about constitutional interpretation. Prerequisite: POL-110 or permission of instructor. Offered occasionally.

291, 391 Independent Study in Political Science (Course value to be determined)

399 Senior Seminar (1 course) Senior seminars are required for the major and offered yearly in three subfields of political science: American politics, international relations/comparative politics, and political theory/law. While the specific topics of the courses will vary, all will include the completion of a substantial research paper. Students will be notified of specific course offerings during their junior year and will be placed in a seminar based on their preference. Prerequisite: POL-200. WRITD, Fall and Spring semester.