Academics > Curriculum

Courses of Instruction

In an age of instant media coverage and global markets, students need and want to learn about the main similarities and differences between their government and all others.  These courses and major requirements combine a solid grounding in American politics with the study of foreign governments, world politics and political theory.

Ten courses are required to complete the political science major:

  • POL 108 Introduction to Politics
  • POL 115 American National Government and Politics
  • Two Courses in comparative or international politics
  • An advanced American government course
  • A political theory course
  • Four elective political science courses

Six courses are required to complete the political science minor:

  • POL 108 Introduction to Politics
  • POL 115 American National Government and Politics
  • A political theory course
  • An additional American government course
  • A course in comparative or international politics
  • One elective

Click here for a four-year path through the major.


The Political science courses are:

POL 108 Introduction to Politics
This is an introductory/gateway course that is suited to majors and non-majors alike.  It is designed to give students a good sense of how political scientists examine politics and an invitation  -- or a challenge – to active citizenship.

POL 115 American National Government and Politics
This course examines the structure of American government and politics with three purposes in mind:  to examine the framing of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the reasoning behind the structure of the American government; to explain the process by which public policy is made; and to examine some contemporary policy issues.

POL 195,196  Topics in Political Science
These courses are offered occasionally on a variety of political science subjects.  Examples of recent topics include political identity, democratization, and environmental politics.

POL 207 Religion and American Politics
This course focuses on several points of tension at the intersection of the religious and political spheres.  Students learn to recognize:  (a) the difficulties of applying the principles of "religious freedom" to specific contexts; and (b) the complicating effects of America's increasing religious and cultural diversity on public policy; and (c) the connections between moral values and political beliefs in American politics as well as in their own lives.  The course also includes mock Supreme Court case

POL 2X8  Political Violence and the Violent
From Cambodia to Colombia to “Kurdistan,” from riots to revolutions – no part of the world is immune from politically motivated violence.  What motivates people like Che Guevara, Timothy McVeigh, and Osama bin Laden to rise up against the state?  Why have Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Augusto Pinochet, and others used the state to repress their own people?  Is war simply “politics by other means”?  This course addresses such issues, with particular attention to theories that explain the persistence of political violence.  It also examines such phenomena as coups d’état, guerrilla warfare, rebellions, torture, and various forms of terrorism; the people, politics, ideals, and ideologies behind them; and how states, their people, and the international community move beyond political violence.

POL 245 Political Parties and Elections
In this course we study American campaigns and elections. The course is taught in spring semester of even-numbered years, which means that there are campaigns going on at the time, and in presidential election years we feature the Iowa Presidential Caucuses. So our discussions are informed, so to speak, by our own lab rats who are running around the country trying to get elected!  Each student will participate in a congressional election simulation, taking the role of candidate, campaign manager, media consultant, press secretary, data analyst, researcher, print or broadcast journalist.  We also study statistical analysis of electoral behavior with the help of a web-based data analysis system.

POL 248  Political Violence and the Violent
Focuses on politically motivated violence by and against states, groups, and individuals, with attention to theories that explain the persistence of such violence.  Examines such phenomena as traditional warfare, guerrilla warfare, coups d’état, rebellions, torture, and terrorism and the people, politics, ideals, and ideologies behind them.

POL 258 World Politics
What shapes world politics?  Who are the key actors?  What are the key forces & threats?  (And where do you fit into the broad scheme of things?)  Would world politics be more peaceful if more states were democracies, more leaders were women, & there was a McDonald’s in every city & a chicken in every pot?  Or, should we look to increased cooperation & reliance on the rule of international law?  What are the global trends in the post-Cold War, post-Soviet, and post 9-11 world?  These are some of the big questions we discuss in this course.

POL 266 Latin American Politics
In this course we focus on an exciting and dynamic feature of contemporary Latin American politics: the “wave” of democratization that is washing over the region.  We discuss the difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy.  We consider matters such as political culture, political economy, political institutions, and political violence as well as the military’s role and the impact of corruption.  We also study the United States’ role in Latin America, especially with regard to narcotrafficking in Colombia and bilateral relations with Cuba.

POL 276 African Politics
This course examines politics in Africa with particular attention to the current pressing challenges of development and democratization.  We survey political structures across the continent, the impact of colonialism and modern economic and political challenges that make life so difficult for millions of Africans.  We will run two simulated policy workshops examining current policy debates.

POL 277 Women and Politics in the United States
The unique nature of women’s experience with politics in the United States is this course’s focus.  We study women as voters, politicians, activists, and clients of public policy. Attention is given to the changes in public policy credited to the women’s movement.  This course includes fieldwork, and all writing assignments are based on interviews with students and women involved in politics in Cedar Rapids.

POL 286 Asian Politics
This course introduces students to major political systems and dynamics in parts of vast and diverse Asia.  Particular attention goes to the regional powerhouses of China, Japan and India.  We also study political and economic themes in Southeast Asia.  Students play the role of politicians in two policy debates of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).  Recent topics have been trade of endangered species, anti-terrorism policies and human trafficking.

POL 298 European Politics
What is changing and what -- if anything --  remains the same in politics across Europe?  In this course, we study the continuities in individual nation states, such as Germany, France, Great Britain and Russia as well as how they have experienced and influenced recent political and economic transformation in the region.  We also examine the European Union (EU) by studying its history, its mechanisms and the challenges facing its further integration.  We run an extended simulation of part of the EU policy-making process.

POL 305  Terrorism
In this course, advanced students delve deeply into a lamentable timely topic: terrorism and global responses to it.  Has terrorism ever worked?  Is terrorism ever justified?  What are terrorism’s threats to democracy?  How can democratic governments best survive those threats? We examine the history of terrorism, discuss a variety of domestic and international terrorist groups, and consider how terrorism is changing in the post-Cold War era.

POL 310 International Organizations
Our focus is on global governance – the policy challenges motivating attempts at global cooperation, efforts at achieving global governance, as well as the evolution and operation of international organizations like the United Nations.  We test theories of international organizations and evaluate the quality of democracy within such institutions.  Students play the role of ambassadors in a simulation of the United Nations Security Council.

POL 325 The American Congress
The U.S. Congress is really two things in one.  On the one hand, it is America’s national legislature, a collective body making law.  On the other hand, it is a representative institution, with individuals from many districts and states bringing diverse viewpoints and interests to Washington.  The story of Congress is how these distinct and often opposed aspects are reconciled – to the extent that’s possible!  We study the creation of Congress at the Constitutional Convention and how Congress operates today.  We research the process as it has applied to recent legislation.

POL 335 The Constitution and the Roles of Government
We examine original court opinions and political writings focusing on the nature and sources of Supreme Court authority; the structure of government; judicial review; and commerce, taxing, spending, and war powers.  Special attention is given to the separation of powers: the President, Congress, and the Court.

POL 345 The American Presidency
This course examines the origins and development of the American chief executive, as well as studies how the office works today.  How is the presidency organized?  How does it interact with other political institutions?  How does the president contribute to the making of foreign and domestic policy?  Each student researches and writes an original research paper based on a case study of a particular president in history.

POL 350 U.S. Social Policy Process
Advanced students closely examine the process through which social public policy is made in the United States.  Four areas of social policy receive in-depth attention:  health care, education, income maintenance, and social regulation (e.g., reproduction and sexuality). Students research, write about and debate current social challenges and policy alternatives.

POL 365 American Foreign Policy
This course touches on enduring issues in American foreign policy (e.g., isolationism vs. internationalism) as well as current affairs.  To help us to make sense of them, we discuss the historical context, foreign policy goals, dynamics of policy formulation, key actors and concepts, with specific cases/events.

POL 375 The Constitution and Individual Liberties
We examine original course opinions and political writings focusing upon the procedural contents of due process, equal protection under the law, post-Civil War amendments, and civil rights legislation, with special emphasis upon freedoms of religion and expression.

POL 386 International Development
This course traverses the contested terrain of international development.  It raises the question of what we mean by “development” – development of what for whom? – then moves to the related question of how to measure development.  The course proceeds to models and theories of development then to current international development issues.  We discuss the role of the state and of such organizations as the IMF, UN, USAID, and World Bank.  Throughout, we grapple with some of the ethical issues at hand.  For instance, does our moral universe end at our national borders or do states have the right to make moral demands (feed your people! protect your environment!) to which other states are obliged to respond?

POL 398 Religion and World Politics
What are the ways in which religion enters international politics – and vice versa?  How is this changing?  Why is religion so often ignored or misunderstood by foreign policy theorists and practitioners?  So what?  Through this course we explore the role of religion in various aspects of world politics.  In doing so, we focus on two of the world’s major religions, Christianity and Islam; the conflicting trends of secularization and the rise of religious “fundamentalisms”; and the equally conflicting evidence of religion as a force for peace and a source of discord.

POL 405 Contemporary Political Theory
This is a historical survey of the ideas of the most important political thinkers since 1900, including such authors as Hannah Arendt, John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Nozick, John Rawls, and Jean-Paul Sartre.  The course looks at these writers in their historical contexts, as well as in relation to each other.  Students will learn to analyze and criticize their arguments, as well as research one chosen philosopher in-depth in a semester paper.

POL 435 Ancient and Medieval Political Theory
We read and respond to arguments written by some of the most important political thinkers prior to 1500, including such authors as Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, as well as the writers of the Bible.  The course looks at these writers in their historical contexts as well as in relation to each other.

POL 445 Modern Political Theory
This course surveys the great ideas in Western political philosophy from 1500 to the present.  We discuss issues related to ultimate authority, justice, human nature, humans' capacity to reason, and the role of women, among others.  We pay particular attention to the 17th-18th century contract theorists, whose ideas influenced the founding of the United States.  We also apply all of these ideas to contemporary controversies, proving that while humans don't live forever, ideas can!