Mark A. Smith
POL S 301
Study of topics in political theory.
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
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%