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Political Theory for Undergraduates

Political theory is the study of political ideas and values like justice, power and democracy that we use to describe, understand and assess political practices and institutions. Undergraduate education in political theory at Vanderbilt approaches this study in two ways: by introducing students to the historical tradition of political theory and by educating students in the debates of contemporary political theory. Many of our courses combine both perspectives so that students can, for example, learn about important concepts like justice or democracy as we have understood them historically and as we view them today. Faculty in our department work in both areas, and we strongly encourage our students to use political theory’s critical study of concepts and norms to reflect on political theory and practice as we find them in the world.

 In keeping with requirements for the political science major (link) or minor (link), students may choose to focus in political theory as a specialty, but we also welcome students from other departments to take as many of our courses as they wish. Students who are interested in beginning a course of study in political theory should take PSCI 103: Justice, a class that introduces students to a major theme in historical and contemporary thought and to the ways of approaching political problems using theory. From there, students can select from a range of 200-level courses and we encourage students to take both lecture classes and small seminars.

 We offer a course sequence in the history of political thought, PSCI 202 and 203, meant to introduce students to political theory as a long tradition beginning with the ancients and continuing into the 20th century. Our particular teaching strengths in contemporary thought include human rights, political economy, feminist theory, and religion and politics. We recommend students pursue both fields of study, to gain a rich understanding of the depth and range of debates and questions that animate political theory and practice.

 Students should consult the Vanderbilt course catalog (link) for a complete list of courses, recognizing that some 200-level courses are offered only every other year.

 Political theory prepares undergraduates for a diverse array of graduate programs and career paths.