Requirements: Political Science

Social Sciences Division

Political science offers students a vibrant and challenging approach to the study of politics that focuses on analyzing current issues and debating the most profound and enduring problems of public life. The major combines a study of ancient and modern political philosophy with analyses of American politics, comparative politics and international relations. The department pursues three basic objectives in its curriculum: to explore the nature of politics — its purposes, limitations and significance in human life; to promote an understanding of various forms of political systems and of relations among them; and to develop a capacity for intelligent analysis and evaluation of public policies and a sensitive awareness of opposing points of view in the political debates of our time.

Throughout the program, the emphasis is on the fundamental ideas concerning human nature, justice and the purposes of government. Course readings present students with differing points of view. Students are encouraged to participate in discussion and debate of controversial questions.

The Kenyon College faculty voted to change from Kenyon units to semester hours. This change will go into effect for all students who start at the College in the fall of 2024. Both systems will be used throughout the course catalog with the Kenyon units being listed first.


New Students

The Department of Political Science offers several introductory courses for diversification. We especially recommend PSCI 101Y-102Y. It is the only political science course designed expressly for first-year students. Although PSCI 101Y-102Y is not required for a major in political science, we strongly recommend it as an introduction to the program. This course is broad in scope and is designed to provide an effective introduction to college work in the humanities and social sciences generally. For students who wish to take a political science course for diversification as a sophomore or above, the department offers introductory courses in each of our subfields: PSCI 200D, 220, 221, 240 and 260. In the spring semester, first-year students who are taking PSCI 101Y may register for one of the following: PSCI 200D, 240 or 260.

Students who are interested in political science and wish to study off campus during their junior year are especially encouraged to take PSCI 240 and 260 before going abroad.

Additional information for new students is available on the department's webpage.

The Curriculum

Quest for Justice, PSCI 101Y-102Y

The course, which emphasizes the development of reading, writing and speaking skills, is an introduction to the serious discussion of the most important questions concerning political relations and human well-being. These are controversial issues that, in the contemporary world, take the form of debates about identity, diversity, inequality and the like but, as students discover here, they are rooted in perennial questions about justice. In the informal atmosphere of the seminar, students get to know one another well and debate often continues outside of class.

So that students may prepare adequately for each class, assignments from the common syllabus tend to be short. The course is designed to develop analytical skills through careful reading and effective discussion. Six to eight brief analytical papers are assigned and carefully graded (for grammar and style as well as intellectual content). Instructors discuss the papers individually with students. Thus, this is also a "writing course" as well as one devoted to thinking and discussion.

The papers typically account for 60 percent of the course grade, with the remainder dependent on class participation and the final examination. This yearlong course is taught as a first-year seminar with class size kept, as much as possible, to a maximum of 18 students. We offer several sections of the course, all with common readings.

Introductory Subfield Courses

The following courses are particularly recommended to sophomores, juniors and seniors who are new to the political science curriculum: 

  • American Politics
    • PSCI 200D: Liberal Democracy in America
  • Political Philosophy
    • PSCI 220: Classical Quest for Justice
    • PSCI 221: Modern Quest for Justice
  • Comparative Politics
    • PSCI 240: Modern Democracies
  • International Relations
    • PSCI 260: International Relations

A number of upper-level electives are open to students without any prerequisites, but we encourage students seeking exposure to political science to begin with the core courses of our curriculum: 

  • PSCI 101Y-102Y: Quest for Justice
  • PSCI 200D: Liberal Democracy in America
  • PSCI 220: Classical Quest for Justice
  • PSCI 221: Modern Quest for Justice
  • PSCI 240: Modern Democracies
  • PSCI 260: International Relations

Requirements for the Major

Students majoring in political science must complete 10 courses in the subject, including:

  • PSCI 200D: Liberal Democracy in America
  • PSCI 220: Classical Quest For Justice
  • PSCI 221: Modern Quest For Justice
  • PSCI 240: Modern Democracies
  • PSCI 260: International Relations
  • One course in American politics (any semester course numbered from 300–315)
  • One course in either comparative politics or international relations beyond the introductory courses in the subfields
  • One PSCI seminar
  • Two elective courses

The introductory course, PSCI 101Y-102Y, is designed for first-year students and is recommended for all students considering a major in political science. Though not required, this course does count toward the major.

Senior Capstone

The Senior Capstone in political science is a five-hour comprehensive examination usually scheduled for the Friday and Saturday one week before spring break. The exam is divided into two parts, each of which requires students to answer a 2 1/2-hour question that cuts across subfields and requires integration and application of knowledge learned in various courses. In one part, the questions focus more on political theory and, to a lesser extent, American politics. In the other, the questions focus more on comparative, American and international politics.


The Honors Program in political science is designed to recognize and encourage exceptional scholarship in the discipline and to allow students to do more independent work in the subject. Honors candidates are required to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.6 in the major and are admitted into the program based on an oral examination conducted by faculty members. 

Additional information about the political science Honors Program is available from the department.

Transfer Credit Policy

The department accepts up to two courses from approved off-campus study courses to count toward the major.