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Political Theory Comprehensive Exam

In keeping with departmental requirements, students specializing in political theory will sit for an examination in the fall of the third year. While many of the materials covered in graduate coursework will be part of students’ preparation for the exam, students are strongly encouraged to meet with faculty to design a reading list for studying purposes. The reading list will include much more than what is covered in coursework, and it should be carefully designed to reflect a student’s intellectual interests and dissertation ideas.

Exam Coverage

First-field political theorists will be examined in three major areas:

  • The History of Political Thought: Students must demonstrate a critical understanding of canonical texts from a range of periods in the Western tradition, as well as the ability to distinguish different interpretive approaches to the study of these texts.
  • Understanding of Particular Authors: Students must demonstrate a deep understanding of a small number of political theorists, historical or contemporary. Preparation includes engaging with most or all of an author’s body of work, as well as the secondary literature on that work. Students are expected to select theorists who bear significance for their own research agendas.
  • Contemporary Issues and Debates: Students are expect to read and engage with contemporary thought on a range of subjects in field. This part of the exam will again be tailored to a student’s interests, and may include work on critical concepts, ideologies, epistemological concerns, and methodologies.

Exam Format

Students will have 24 hours to complete the written exam, which will be open-book and open-notes. Students will have a choice of questions, but must answer one from each of the above areas.

View a more detailed guide to exam preparation and examples of exam questions.