Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Mark A. Smith
POL S 301
Seattle Campus

Topics in Political Theory

Study of topics in political theory.

Class description

Do we choose our political values and opinions, or do they result from forces such as genetic influences, family socialization, the mass media, and the persuasive power of political elites? Why and when do people commit horrific acts of violence? Why do religious beliefs and practices vary so much from person to person around the world and within the United States? Why are most people straight, others gay, and others bisexual? How much control do we have over our personal achievements and the course of our lives? Broadly speaking, answers to questions such as these invoke one or more of three responses: free will, meaning that we freely choose our actions, opinions, and worldviews; nature, meaning that we follow the paths set for us by our shared and our varying human natures; and nurture, meaning that we are the products of our social, economic, and political environments. Although they have not always understood their works within this general framework, for millennia various writers and thinkers have considered and debated the respective effects of free will, nature, and nurture on human beliefs and behaviors. Focusing on the perspectives and findings of contemporary research, this course will explore free will, nature, and nurture from the vantage point of political science and several other academic disciplines including religious studies, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and biology. By comparing the methods and assumptions of different disciplines, the course also helps situate political science within the modern university.

Student learning goals

Stimulate your thinking about your life—your beliefs, your decisions, how you got to where you are, and where you might go in the future

Understand the methods and assumptions of different disciplines and where political science fits within the modern university

Cultivate your taste in serious non-fiction

General method of instruction

lecture, readings, some discussion

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

2 exams and 1 paper. The paper will which synthesize and critique the books assigned for the course in light of each other and the lectures.

Texts: Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success; Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature; Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel

Exams: 60% Papers: 30% Class participation: 10% TOTAL: 100%


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Mark A. Smith
Date: 06/22/2012