Undergraduate Seminars

Students majoring in political science must take two 4-point seminars: one in junior year and another in senior year (with exceptions made for students on leave or studying abroad). Students may choose from among the seminars offered, though at least one of the seminars taken must be in the student’s primary subfield.

Registration Information

Students may not pre-register for these courses. Students may enroll in them only with permission of the instructor on or after the first day of class. Undergraduate students interested in registering for a seminar must join the seminar's wait list and wait for the intstructor's directions. Procedures for obtaining the required approval vary according to instructor preference. Students should consult the course notes in the Directory of Classes or the Undergraduate Program Coordinator for instructions.

Barnard colloquia are open to students with the permission of the instructor. However, Barnard colloquia can count for seminar credit only at the discretion of the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Note that admission to Barnard colloquia is by application to the Barnard political science department only.

Seminars must be taken for a letter grade. 

The following course numbers represent the approved undergraduate seminars that can be taken in fulfillment of the seminar requirement. All seminars are 4 points.

POLS UN3911 and UN3912 — Seminar in Political Theory
POLS UN3921 and UN3922 — Seminar in American Politics
POLS UN3951 and UN3952 — Seminar in Comparative Politics
POLS UN3961 and UN3962 — Seminar in International Relations

Students who wish to have a course that is not listed above count toward the seminar requirement must receive written permission to do so from either the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the political science undergraduate adviser.



1. Religion, Democracy and Human Rights. Instructor: Jean Cohen.

​A major challenge to liberal, democratic and republican constitutionalism in the 21st century is posed by controversy over the relation between religion, the administrative state, civil law and the public sphere. This course will consider the meaning of political secularism, the anti-theocracy principle, and religious freedom, and ask what modes of separation and accommodation between religion and the state is constitutive of liberal constitutional democracy? Do certain forms of the accommodation of religion demanded in the name of religious freedom conflict with the principles of equality central to democratic constitutionalism?  Is religion special and should religious organizations be granted exemptions from generally valid civil law including anti-discrimination law? What are the politics behind contemporary demands for religious freedom in the U.S.? We will focus on the American case and the political and constitutional developments pertaining to political secularism, anti-establishment, separation, and the regulation of religion.


2. Gender, Religion and Legal Pluralism. Instructor: Jean Cohen.

What modes of recognition of religious pluralism and self-government are compatible with democratic constitutionalism and gender equality? In the U.S. and Western Europe, proliferating demands for exemptions from valid general civil law (particularly anti-discrimination law pertaining to gender and sexuality) are made in the name of religious freedom, while in post-colonial contexts, legal pluralism in the field of personal status law—separate jurisdictions for religious/ethnic groups or state enforcement of different personal status laws for different groups—is touted as doing justice to social difference and plurality.  What impact on gender equality does deference to religious “nomos groups” by the state have domestically and internationally? What are the politics behind such deference and jurisdictional pluralism? This seminar will analyze the theoretical and political issues from the perspective of theories of democratic legitimacy, liberal and republican constitutionalism and feminism. It will have a theoretical and comparative historical focus, examining western and post-colonial contexts. Among the authors we will read are Mounira Charrad, Will Kymlica, Cecile Laborde, Saba Mahmood,  Mahmood Mamdani, Anne Philipps, Ayelet Shachar, Iris Marion Young, among others.



1. 20th Century African-American Political Thought. Instructor: Fredrick Harris.

This course primarily surveys the political and social thought of African-Americans during the 20th century. It considers the social, political, and historical context of political ideologies in black communities, from the standpoint of early thinkers and activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington, and Ida B. Wells-Barnett to post-World War II thinkers such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, bell hooks, and Cornel West, among others. The course critically assesses such perspectives as liberalism, nationalism, feminism, conservatism, and Marxism as considered by black thinkers. The course approaches the study of African American political and social thought from theoretical and historical perspectives.


2. Terrorism and Counterterrorism. Instructor: Brigitte Nacos.

The seminar is designed to illuminate students’ understanding of the most important aspects of domestic and transnational terrorism and counterterrorism today and in the past. While the major focus is on the United States as target of and responder to this sort of political violence, we will also explore terrorist threats/attacks and counter-measures around the globe. 


3. The First Amendment. Instructor: Robert Amdur.

The First Amendment has probably generated a larger scholarly literature, a larger popular literature, and more discussion at all levels of society than any other part of the Constitution. In this seminar we will look closely at some of the Supreme Court's most important First Amendment decisions, along with commentaries, and theoretical works on freedom of speech and religious liberty. How has the Court balanced--and how should the Court balance--the rights protected by the First Amendment against values such as public order, reputation, dignity, privacy, and national security?


4. Executive Leadership. Instructor: Martha Zebrowski.

This seminar is an examination of the nature and practice of executive leadership in public, private (i.e., for profit, business), and non-profit institutions in the United States. The course does not begin with a theory of executive leadership. Rather, the goal of the course is to develop such a theory, a theory that takes into account the similarities and differences among the very different institutional sectors in American life, and a theory that distinguishes authentic leadership from four related matters, the effective exercise of power, effective management, having a “top job,” and celebrity. The first part of the seminar is devoted to: a) discussion of common, required readings, including case studies, that consider the nature and practice of executive leadership, and b) discussion of students’ research interests and strategies for gathering, organizing, and analyzing data for their own seminar papers. The second part of the course is devoted to students’ presentations, in class, of their own research on particular public, private, and non-profit executive leaders or problems in executive leadership, and to class discussion of their research.


5. Separation of Powers—Political and Legal Influences on Federal Agencies. Instructor: John Sivolella.

This seminar is a comprehensive, diverse, high-level introduction to the politics and legal aspects of U.S. federal agencies. It focuses on how politics affect the decision making and behavior of federal agencies and the circumstances when political influence may or may not be appropriate. It examines how each branch of government, as well as interest groups, attempt to control and influence federal agencies, and their relative success. There is a focus on the exercise of power by the President over agencies, with examples including the closing of Guantanamo Bay and U.S. immigration policy analyzed in this context. Topics will also include financial regulation, particularly the role of the SEC and how politics affects that agency. The seminar draws on other contemporary examples through brief weekly student presentations about real-time political events. The seminar has cross-disciplinary elements—it is built around political science readings, but incorporates readings from law, economics and popular works on public policy. Significant time is devoted to students’ presentations of their research in class to encourage the development of high-quality seminar papers.


6. The Politics of American Policymaking. Instructor: Judith Russell.

This seminar directs readings and research on public policymaking in the American federal government. It is designed to help students think analytically about the ways in which the structures, processes and actors at the heart of public policymaking interact. It examines how political institutions--the executive and legislative branches--are organized and motivated to produce policy, the politics of government organization, bureaucratic operation and survival, how the budget process drives policymaking processes, policy structures and relationships that have emerged out of custom and practice, theories and models of decision-making, concepts of rationality and choice, agenda-setting, political innovation, and  judicial and interest group roles in policy formation. Specific policy areas we will engage as case studies are: economic and employment policy, healthcare policy and policy responses to terrorism, war and disaster.


7. Aftermath of the 2016 Election. Instructor: Robert Erikson.


8. Urban Political Institutions. Instructor: Shigeo Hirano.


9. Public Opinion and Political Behavior: The Historical Study of American Public Opinion. Instructor: Robert Y. Shapiro.

This seminar will examine, and students will do research on, trends in public opinion and their causes and political consequences in the United States. Prerequisites: an introductory course in methodology, statistics, or the equivalent background or interest, and the permission of the instructor. The motivation for this course is the role of public opinion and political behavior more broadly as they bear on the workings of American democracy. It will introduce students to important theoretical and empirical aspects of public opinion and opinion change, focusing their contemporary history, their causes, and their consequences. The assigned readings and those tailored to each student’s research will focus on individual and aggregate level public opinion in the United States as measured through national public opinion surveys (polling). Students may examine other countries or do comparative research if they have a special interest in this and can readily show that adequate data are available for fulfilling the course’s research paper requirements. Since students have access to data available through the Columbia Library’s Digital Social Science Center and the Internet, the course encourages students to explore data and other information that are available at an increasing number of relevant websites in the United States and worldwide.



1. Information, Media, and Political Behavior. Instructor: John Marshall.

How does political information, and print, broadcast and social media shape the behavior of voters and politicians in the information age? We first ask what voters know about politics, how the news and political ads influence voter opinions, electoral turnout, vote choices and the likelihood that voters hold governments to account for their performance in office. We then explore the determinants and consequences of media biases, focusing on editorial slant, political capture and government censorship. Finally, we examine how social media and new technologies are changing the nature of modern political participation. This course draws on evidence from both developed and developing contexts.


2. Political Economy of Latin America. Instructor: Maria Victoria Murillo.

This class focuses on the transformation of Latin American political economy since democratization. Departing from the processes of economic liberalization that occurred in the 1990s it discusses the expansion of social policy, changes in social structure and emergence of left wing movements in the new millennium at the time of the commodity boom triggered by Asian demand and the political consequences of the end of the commodity cycle. Topics include not only electoral behavior and policymaking but also social reactions and conflict associated to these developments. Regional patterns within Latin America will be explored and the main focus will be politics of the new millennium. This seminar is NOT an introduction to Latin American political economy, it assumes a basic background on Latin American politics and history and thus a prior class on Latin American politics is a requirement and a background on research design is strongly recommended. The class reviews academic debates on the relationship between political and economic process, focusing on the impact of political dynamics of economic and social policies as well as the consequences of those policies on new political dynamics.



1. Global Environmental Politics. Instructor: Johannes Urpelainen.

Global environmental deterioration is a major threat to human wellbeing. How do governments cooperate to address international environmental problems? Why is the global environmental regime structured as it is? Can international agreements and organizations solve global environmental problems? These are the primary questions addressed in this seminar. Among other topics, we cover research on global climate cooperation, the relationship between trade liberalization and the environment, North-South negotiations on environmental agreements, environmental activism, and the problem of energy poverty in the least developed countries. The seminar also provides students with an opportunity to conduct original research. In addition to weekly readings and discussion, the students write a final paper for the class based on empirical research on global environmental governance.


2. Civil War and Peace. Instructor: Dawn Brancati.

This course examines the causes and consequences of civil war and all types of intrastate violence short of it, as well as the potential solutions to intrastate conflict, drawing on examples from countries throughout the world, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Iraq, Russia, Rwanda, Spain, etc. In Part I of the course, we explore the possible causes of intrastate violence, including ethnic and religious identities, economic and security concerns, natural disasters, and democratization. In order to understand the challenges countries face in recovering from internal conflicts, we examine in Part II of this course the different ways in which conflicts are conducted, including the use of child soldiers, gender-based violence, and attacks on civilian populations.  Finally, in Part III, we use our knowledge of the causes and consequences of intrastate conflict to analyze the utility of different tools for managing it, including, but not limited to, peacekeeping and other forms of third-party intervention, reintegration programs, power-sharing, decentralization and partition.


3. US-Iran Relations. Instructor: Andrew Cooper.

In the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal, US-Iran relations are undergoing their most profound change since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. This seminar explores the origins of America’s fraught relationship with Iran with a focus on events during the Cold War and the thirty-seven year reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Washington’s close ally and the leader a generation of US policymakers entrusted to defend Free World interests in the Persian Gulf. Fear of revolution was a recurrent theme of US-Iran relations during this period and students will explore why US efforts to prevent instability inadvertently hastened regime collapse, and why an understanding of history (“historical awareness”) can be helpful in preventing or alleviating future foreign policy crises. Given current events in the region, the lessons of the US entanglement with Iran since World War Two remain as pertinent as they are troubling. Course readings include books, journal articles, mainstream journalism and primary source documents.


4. The Law of War. Instructor: Brooke Greene.

The law of war is a necessarily interdisciplinary topic, which is partly what makes it so fascinating as a subject of inquiry. To understand the law of war, you must understand something about law, something about war, something about politics, and something about history. While this is a political science course primarily concerned with the study of the law of war in that discipline, we will attempt to incorporate insights from these other perspectives in order to have the richest possible understanding of this puzzling and significant topic. The first part of the course will make the law of war itself the puzzle we attempt to explain. Why do states choose to create law in the first place, let alone in a realm as tenuous as that of war? Here we will consider rationalist explanations of regime creation as well as realist alternatives rooted in power and sociological explanations rooted in cultural understandings of wartime morality. The second part of the course will turn to the law of war as independent variable and probe the effects of law on the behavior of states. What factors influence state behavior vis-a-vis the law of war? What consequences other than compliance might ensue from the law of war and attempts by states and non-state actors to encourage compliance? The course will conclude with a consideration of the future of the law of war, focusing on the ways in which new technology shapes and is shaped by the law. Though this course focuses on the law of war, it may usefully be viewed as an extended case study of the causes and consequences of international law more generally.


5. The UN: Past and Present. Instructor: Jean Krasno.

This course will focus on the United Nations, its founding and the evolution of its activities during the Cold War and post-Cold War international system. Students will examine the role of preventive diplomacy and mediation, especially the “good offices” of the UN Secretary-General. The course will also cover UN peacekeeping, the use of force in peace enforcement, and the involvement of the UN in peace building, development, and democratization. Students will also examine the UN’s role in the formation of international law and as a focal point for the development of global norms.


6. Contemporary Diplomacy. Instructor: Rebecca Murphy.

This seminar focuses on diplomacy in the modern era and examines major diplomatic events since the end of the Cold War. International relations theory and empirical developments frame our approach to the study of contemporary diplomacy, including analyzing the complex role of diplomacy as an instrument of statecraft as well as the evolution of diplomatic strategies and methods. Students examine how states manage and shape external relations through diplomacy, either alone or in combination with other instruments, and study the conditions under which diplomatic statecraft has had positive, negative or no impact on various foreign policies and international outcomes. We critically assess and analyze the practice and role of diplomacy amid a range of post- Cold War cases including the reunification of Germany, the Dayton Accords, Israeli-Palestinian relations since the Oslo Accords, coercive diplomacy against Iraq and Iran, the Good Friday Agreement, diplomacy in the fight against terrorism, the international environmental agenda, and international dynamics in the cyber domain.


7. Political Violence. Instructor: Linda Kirschke.

This seminar will address the causes and consequences of political violence. It will examine issues surrounding identity, economic factors, armed and criminal groups, civilian casualties, terrorism and state violence. It will present debates on international military intervention and counter-terrorism strategy. Empirical material will include case studies on the Islamic State, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, Georgia, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina.



POLS UN3911x Political Theory Seminar

1. Individual Autonomy in the 21st Century. Instructor: Luise Papcke.

Facebook, targeted advertisement, NSA: Where do individual boundaries lie with a smartphone in our pockets? How do these technologies affect our agency as autonomous individuals today? While the idea of individual autonomy is at the heart of much of the Western political and social order, increasing cultural diversity and new forms of media and surveillance raise urgent and challenging questions about its ideal and possibility. This seminar will engage with primary texts from Kant to contemporary thinkers on the nature and value of individual autonomy, and will explore these theories for a better understanding of the issues that characterize our ever-evolving and increasingly technologized society today.

​2. Marx. Instructor: Jon Elster.


POLS UN3921x American Politics Seminar

NOTE: POLS UN3921, Section 001 has been cancelled for the Fall 2016 semester.

2. Political Parties in U.S. Politics. Instructor: Shigeo Hirano.

In 1942, E.E. Schattschneider famously wrote that “democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties.” A large body of research focusing on trying to understand the role parties in the American political system. This seminar will examine political parties in the U.S. from both theoretical and empirical perspectives.

3. Bill of Rights. Instructor: Martha Zebrowski.

This seminar is an investigation of the nature and importance of the federal Bill of Rights and state bills of rights in the American federal and state constitutional systems. Common readings, class discussions, and student seminar papers consider the social, political, and legal significance of the Bill of Rights and the broader language of rights in historical and contemporary American discourse and analysis.  The first part of the seminar is devoted to: a) discussion of common, required readings, including constitutional case law and analyses by political scientists, historians, and legal scholars, that address a variety of rights issues from the period of the nation’s founding through the present, and b) discussion of students’ research interests and strategies for gathering, organizing, and analyzing data for their own seminar papers. The second part of the seminar is devoted to students’ presentations, in class, of their own research on particular rights issues related to the Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment, state bills of rights, rights-related legislation, and rights-related legal campaigns and battles.

4. Media and U.S. Politics. Instructor: Brigitte Nacos.

5. Equality and the Law. Instructor: Robert Amdur.

6. Sexuality and Citizenship in the U.S. Instructor: Justin Phillips.

For much of the 20th century, the American political system excluded lesbians and gay men from full citizenship. This course seeks to understand the political and social forces shaping the transformation of these sex nonconformists from a pariah group into a viable social movement and eventually into a powerful constituency within the Democratic Party. Special emphasis will be placed on the state’s role in defining lesbian and gay identities, the ways in which gender and racial diversity have shaped the LGB movement, and the role that partisan electoral strategies played in ushering sexuality to the center of American political conflict.

7. The Politics of Income Inequality. Instructor: Judith Russell.

This seminar is designed to give students an organized opportunity to examine the dramatic changes in income distribution in the U.S. over the last three decades. It will concentrate on the causes and consequences of widening income disparity, and on how politics has structured economic patterns of great inequalities. It was politics that brought about the establishment of governmental institutions that elevated the condition and prospects of the American middle class; it is politics that shaped and do shape the function of the economy, and it is politics that shape the distribution of income and wealth today which have been disadvantageous for the American middle class. Students will finish the semester with a respectable understanding of current arguments, evidence, and explanations surrounding income inequality—and why it is considered to be a rising ‘crisis’ in the American case. The claim of rising ‘income inequality’ today raises fundamental questions about who benefits from the politics of inequality and redistribution and how. This new course focuses on politics and selected public policies affecting the distribution of income and the accumulation of wealth in the U.S. Among those policies considered are: campaign finance reform, voting access, the minimum wage, Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), college student loans, corporate pay, assisted family leave, the (failed) Family Assistance Plan, job training programs and unemployment insurance.


POLS UN3951x Comparative Politics Seminar

1. Voting Behavior and Voting Institutions in Comparative Perspective. Instructor: Chiara Superti.

This course aims to introduce many of the important debates that have developed and still surround the concept and practice of voting in the United States and across the world. We will challenge many preconceptions about voting and discover new interesting perspectives on the following questions: What is voting? Why do we vote even if our each of our individual votes has very little impact on the final outcome? Why do some people or groups turn out to vote more than others? Which institutions favor and which limit voting turnout? Why do people vote even in authoritarian regimes, where the chances of making a difference are even slimmer? We will address these and similar questions about voting and elections by combining foundational work in political science with path breaking contributions that spans the disciplines from political philosophy to psychology and economics. We will investigate the nature of voting (i.e., expressive behavior versus rational behavior) and that of institutions such as electoral systems, compulsory voting, and enfranchisement regulations (e.g., ID laws, immigrants’ enfranchisement, and prisoners’ disenfranchisement). Throughout the course, we will examine relevant examples in the news to see how these debates both inform and shed light on important aspects of current political discourse.

2. Democracy: Causes and Consequences. Instructor: Dawn Brancati.

This seminar will examine the major international and domestic causes and consequences of democracy worldwide. The course will cover 4 major themes: (1) the social determinants of democracy (i.e., culture, religion, and protests), (2) the economic causes and consequences of democracy, (3) the international political and economic influences on democracy (i.e., foreign aid, international organizations, electoral monitors), and (4) international and domestic wars.


POLS UN3961x International Politics Seminar

1. National Security Policy. Instructor: Richard Betts.

2. Theories of Revolution. Instructor: Shahrough Akhavi.

The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to and an overview of theories of revolution and contentious collective action, as well as the concrete historical experiences of societies in the modern period that have experienced these phenomena. It is worth noting that in some traditions revolution is considered positively (for example, early American society, 20th-century Russia/Soviet Union, post-1789 France, the 20th-century Arab world, early Zionism, 20th-century China); whereas in other societies the view is more or less negative (England after Cromwell, continental Europe between 1815-1914, classical and medieval Islamic societies, China for much of the imperial period, Japan, India). The emphasis will be on finding ways to explain the causes and effects of revolution and contentious collective action independently of any concrete historical cases. But we will also be interested in examining the specific historical examples. Students can expect to be introduced to materials relative to revolution in England, the United States, France, Russia, China, Vietnam, Algeria, Mexico, Cuba, and Iran. Attention will also be given to the Eastern European revolutions of the late 1980's, and the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979. As to thematic components, we will try to distinguish among revolution, revolt, anti-colonial rebellion, civil war, mutiny, coups d'etat, jacqueries, urban riots, banditry, anomic violence, terrorism, and criminality. However, these various forms of civil disobedience are extremely difficult to keep separate and distinct from each other. Not least of the problems in this regard is that ideological positions have come to be attached to these terms, and so their analytical usefulness is sometimes difficult to appreciate. In addition to trying to distinguish among these forms of civil violence, we will examine various theoretical approaches to the study of revolution and political violence, such as structuralism, political process models, meso-theories of contentious collective action, and rational actor approaches.

3. The Ethical Dimensions of International Relations. Instructor: Rajan Menon.

The Ethical Dimensions of International Politics explores the intersection between ethics and international politics, with particular reference to war (especially Just War Theory), pacifism and civil disobedience, torture, drone strikes, global economic justice, humanitarian intervention, and the concepts of global citizenship and cosmopolitanism. This is a seminar designed for juniors and seniors.  Prior coursework in political science, while helpful, is not essential. The class sessions proceed through a close examination of the readings (from the textbooks and articles posted on Courseworks) and wide-ranging discussion and debates.  Many of the readings are from disciplines other than Political Science and present starkly different views on the topics they cover.  Enrollment requires the approval of the instructor.  All students must write a 25-page research paper, which will be due during the final examination period.  For more details, please email Professor Rajan Menon at rm2758.

4. Strategic Intelligence and Political Decision-Making. Instructor: Albert Bininachvili.

The course is based on the presumption that intelligence and foreign policy- making are interwoven with each other. Examines the role of intelligence in the strategic decision-making process and formulation of foreign policy in the USA, UK and other Western democracies, Russia, China and the leading Middle Eastern and South Asian powers. Intelligence is analyzed either as a governmental institution or a form of activity, with emphasis on complex interactions within the triangle: intelligence community - national security planning bodies - top political leadership. The course explores fundamental intelligence disciplines and stages of intelligence cycle illustrated by specific cases. Special focus on peculiarities of methods and techniques of the world’s leading intelligence organizations. The function of intelligence considered against the backdrop of rapid evolution of information technologies, changing character of national security threats, and globalization. Particular emphasis on the role of intelligence in the cyber-security and cyber-warfare, prevention of WMD proliferation, counter-terrorism and thwarting other transnational threats. The course is specifically designed to meet expectations of students interested in in –depths practical understanding of national security issues.

5. US-Iran Relations. Instructor: Andrew Cooper.

In the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal, US-Iran relations are undergoing their most profound change since the 1979 Iranian Revolution. This seminar explores the origins of America’s fraught relationship with Iran with a focus on events during the Cold War and the thirty-seven year reign of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, Washington’s close ally and the leader a generation of US policymakers entrusted to defend Free World interests in the Persian Gulf. Fear of revolution was a recurrent theme of US-Iran relations during this period and students will explore why US efforts to prevent instability actually hastened regime collapse, and why an understanding of history (“historical awareness”) is crucial to preventing future calamities. Given current events in the region, the lessons of the fall of the Shah of Iran are as pertinent today as they were almost four decades ago. Course readings include books, journal articles, mainstream journalism and primary source documents.

6. The Cold War. Instructor: Robert Jervis.

This seminar will allow students to do in-depth research on the political history of the Cold War. This is not an introduction to the Cold War; students are expected to know the basic history and arguments as a prerequisite. We will cross-walk theories and analytical approaches from political science with historical accounts of the events and evolution of the Cold War, asking both how we can explain this history and how it confirms or disconfirms more general arguments.

7. Debating Human Rights. Instructor: Jack Snyder.

Debates among social scientists and activists about the circumstances that affect human rights outcomes and strategies for strengthening human rights. Although the seminar has no prerequisites, it is designed to build on C3001, Introduction to Human Rights. Students who have taken C3001 may have already read some of the required readings, and those who have not will need to catch up.