Requirements: Sociology

Social Sciences Division

At the turn of the 20th century, W.E.B. DuBois and Emile Durkheim gathered around themselves talented researchers who were committed to bringing the scientific study of society to bear on a modern world rife with injustices new and old. In the same time period, Jane Addams, the namesake of a departmental award, showed the importance of using sociological knowledge to challenge the status quo, improve people’s lives and advocate for peace and women’s rights.

Contemporary sociology still draws inspiration from all its classical founders; Kenyon sociology does, too. We are a community of teacher-scholars and students who are enjoined in the collective tasks of rigorous inquiry, the accumulation of social-scientific knowledge, engagement with community, and the formation of citizen-scholars. We inherit the ambitions of sociology’s founders, as well: From their vantage point in the early 20th century, they believed we needed a new human and ethical science to understand a world undergoing unprecedented and tumultuous change. We believe that is still true today: Sociology is the best vantage point from which to see the dynamic connections between the individual and the economy, politics, culture and history. Society is not a realm isolated; it is the fabric in which the market, the state, values and beliefs — and all of us — are embedded. Thus, we seek to make sociology a foundational part of the liberal arts curriculum at Kenyon so that all can make sense of a world undergoing constant change.

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.


Beginning Studies

We invite students to begin their study of sociology in any of our 100-level courses. Each course takes a thematic approach to introduce students to the sociological imagination and our program’s key concepts and learning goals. Students may enroll in only one, 100-level course in sociology for credit.

Additional information about beginning studies in sociology is available on the department website.

The Curriculum

Key Concepts and Learning Goals

  1. The Sociological Imagination: Students will be able to articulate in writing and speaking how individual biographies intersect with social forces and historical moments.

  2. The Tension between Structure and Agency: Students will be able to explain how human action is constrained and enabled by institutions and culture across contexts local, global and historical.

  3. The Contributions of Sociology to Human Knowledge: Students will be able to demonstrate familiarity with the key concepts and research findings of multiple subfields in sociology, including politics, culture, economics, gender, and health.

  4. The Importance of Sociological Theory: Students will be able to explain the development of sociological theory, its relevance and how theory informs sociological research.

  5. The Design and Execution of Rigorous Sociological Research: Students will be able to demonstrate competency in at least one research methodology and conduct independent research.

  6. The Obligations of Sociologists to Their Publics: Students will be able to explain the purpose, value and ethics of sociological theory and research to audiences beyond the classroom.

Tiering of Courses

Sociology courses are organized in four tiers, which reflect the specificity of the subject matter, the refinement of research and academic skills taught, and the expectations for student ownership of their and others’ learning. The department’s learning goals are reflected in each tier at different levels of intensity and specificity.

100 – Introductory Courses

100-level courses are general overviews of the discipline. Each 100-level course takes a thematic approach and students can expect all courses to convey the same basic components of sociological analysis: the sociological imagination, the tension between structure and agency, the ethics and expectations of social research, and how sociology is related to but different from other disciplines. Students begin to practice using sociological theory and concepts, and apply those ideas to understand their social world typically through papers, exams, observations and creative projects. 100-level courses typically seat 25 students. Students may take only one of the 100-level courses in sociology.

200  Survey Courses

200-level courses are “Sociology of …” courses. Each offers a survey of key subfields in sociology. These courses demonstrate how sociologists study topics like the environment, economy, health, gender, race, sexuality, culture, politics and the like. Students gain substantive knowledge of the empirical findings of these subfields and their debates over theory and methods. Students should also be able to compare and contrast the approaches of a sociological subfield to cognate disciplines in the social sciences, humanities and fine arts (e.g., economic sociology vs. economics). Students can expect exams, literature reviews, short research papers and public-facing projects to help them develop their knowledge of these subfields. Two major requirements – SOCY262 and SOCY271 – are within this tier, as they are surveys of sociological theory and methods, respectively. 200-level courses typically seat 20 students, with a 100-level course as a prerequisite.

300 – Advanced Practice Courses

300-level courses are “hands-on” courses. They focus on how sociologists develop new findings from substantively important research questions, and how they use specific conceptual and methodological tools to do so. These courses cover people, places and issues in a more focused way than at the 200 level. Students develop their sociological toolkits via various practicums: hands-on experience with advanced methods, guided development of case-study papers, concrete engagement with publics and stakeholders in the community, and close reading of theoretical texts, for example. Courses that satisfy the requirement for advanced theory and methods — SOCY 361, 362, 372, 373, 375 and 376 — are at this level. 300-level courses typically seat 15 students, with at least a 100-level course and sophomore standing as prerequisites. Some courses may require a specific 200-level course (e.g., SOCY 262 for SOCY 361).

400 – Intensive Seminar Courses

400-level courses are intensive discussion- and research-based courses. They are taught in a seminar format in which students are expected to lead open-ended discussions on challenging texts and take independent responsibility for their research projects. These courses are curated around specific theoretical and empirical topics, research questions, or themes from which students are expected to independently derive their own work. Culminating assignments often require independent research design and implementation resulting in a long term paper, scholarly presentation and/or public research report to stakeholders. The required senior seminar is a 400-level course precisely because it demands that senior majors engage in independent reading, writing, and contemplation as they prepare for, design, carry out, and present their in-progress capstone project. Typically, 400-level courses seat 12 students, and minimally require one 300-level course as a prerequisite or permission of instructor.

Requirements for the Major

The major in sociology requires a minimum of 10 courses:

  1. One intro course (only one from SOCY 101-108).

  2. Methods and theory. At least three courses  262, 271 and at least one from the following: 361, 362, 372, 373, 375, 376. SOCY 271 can be substituted with LGLS 371.

  3. SOCY 401: Senior Seminar in Sociology.

  4. Additional electives. The remaining five SOCY courses must be at the 200 level or above.

With preapproval from their major advisor and the department chair, students who study away from Kenyon for a semester can transfer up to two courses from their program for major credit as additional electives at the 200 level or above. Students who do not study away may petition the department chair to transfer up to two courses at the 200 level or above from related departments and programs at Kenyon (e.g. social science departments, African diaspora studies, American studies, public policy, women and gender studies). More details about the transfer credit policy can be found below.

The Senior Sociology Experience

Senior Seminar

In fall of the senior year, majors are required to pass SOCY 490 (Senior Seminar in Sociology). This course brings senior majors together to reflect on the theory, methods and practices of sociology that they have learned in their courses; to examine the implications of their sociological knowledge and skills for life after graduation; and to prepare for the completion of their senior exercises the following semester. This includes the proposal for their paper project, due in September. At the conclusion of the course in December, students present their in-development research projects at a public senior research symposium. Pre- and corequisites: sociology major with senior standing and one 300-level sociology course or co-enrollment in a 300-level sociology course that semester.

The Senior Research Symposium in Sociology

The Senior Research Symposium in Sociology is held in December, the week prior to final exams. Students present their in-development Senior Capstone research to an audience of their fellow seniors, faculty and other members of the Kenyon community, followed by a brief discussion with questions from the audience. Students are expected to incorporate useful comments and constructive criticism into their Senior Capstone papers.

The Senior Capstone

In mid-February of the senior year, majors are required to submit a Senior Capstone research paper to the sociology faculty. Senior Capstone papers should be between 4,500 and 5,000 words (approximately 20 pages), excluding references, tables or other figures.

Forms of the Senior Capstone

Students may choose between completing a theoretical or an empirical Senior Capstone.

Theoretical Senior Capstone 

Theoretical Senior Capstones must expand upon or challenge a social theory or theorist whose work addresses sociological questions. Students opting for a theoretical approach to the capstone may focus on classical or contemporary social theory. Theoretical capstone papers may be framed in response to a close reading of texts, historical cases or a contemporary social issue or problem of particular interest to the student. The theoretical capstone must go beyond a paper written for a class. For example, it may offer new interpretations or implications of theory, reflect upon its relevance to social issues, or articulate its importance to contemporary sociology.

Empirical Senior Capstone

Empirical Senior Capstones must extend previous or ongoing research in the discipline using either original or secondary data to explore a question from a sociological perspective. In most circumstances, students can use data collected for previous courses or projects appropriately justified, and already existing data sets and content sources. If opting for the use of original data that involve human-subjects research, students need to secure Institutional Review Board approval in a timely manner. An empirical capstone must go beyond any prior analysis developed for a class, independent project or summer research fellowship. For example, it must offer new interpretations of the data, establish new connections to theory or outline new applications to social problems.

Assessment of the Senior Capstone

Capstone papers are distributed to two faculty readers who assess them on the criteria below using a Likert scale (1-strongly disagree, 2-disagree, 3-neither agree nor disagree, 4-agree, 5-strongly agree). The student receives a letter from the department indicating whether the work has passed, failed or been granted distinction, along with qualitative summary comments from both readers.

Process and Development of Capstone
  • Student definitely went beyond a paper, analysis, or presentation in a previous course

  • Student definitely used feedback from faculty and peers from the symposium presentation

Theoretical Capstone Criteria
  • Paper demonstrates thorough understanding of literature associated with the theory or theorists addressed

  • Paper demonstrates solid close reading of theoretical texts

  • Paper solidly identifies theoretical stakes of social problems, issues and/or cases

  • Paper makes warranted, logical arguments to elaborate on the theory addressed

  • Overall, paper clearly makes a case for its theoretical solution to the problems presented

Empirical Capstone Criteria
  • Paper demonstrates thorough understanding of literature associated with the empirical phenomenon under investigation

  • Paper clearly explains and justifies methods used

  • Paper clearly explains process of data collection

  • Paper effectively applies method proposed to data collected

  • Overall, paper articulates the novel contribution of its analysis relative to the existing literature

 Writing and Clarity
  • Global organization: logical, coherent sequence of paragraphs, with clear analytical development and fluid transitions between sections

  • Paragraph logic: Internal organization of sentences within paragraphs focuses reader toward main topic

  • Sentence construction: Sentences effectively written to emphasize key ideas; varied and balanced in length.

  • Word choice: Accurate and thoughtful words used to convey specific ideas

  • ASA standards: Paper meets ASA standards for formatting and bibliography

Criteria for Distinction in the Senior Capstone

Distinction in the Senior Capstone includes receiving similar high scores on all of the above criteria from the reading faculty and these additional criteria:

  1. An outstanding demonstration of the sociological imagination. The paper clearly indicates where structure, biography, and history intersect in the project so as to distinguish between private troubles and public issues.
  2. An outstanding demonstration of subfield knowledge via thorough literature review, developed from elective courses. The paper clearly situates itself within one or more definitive bodies of literature and demonstrates a student’s accumulation of knowledge from coursework in the program.
  3. An outstanding demonstration of knowledge and technical skill developed from a 300-level theory or methods course. The paper applies these skills to derive warranted inferences and interpretations, with reflexive awareness of the possibilities and limitations of said techniques.
  4. An outstanding extension of a completed, ongoing or related project as developed in a 300- or 400-level course, independent research like summer scholars or honors, work experience and/or study abroad. The paper can be said to be making a truly novel contribution and deepens a student’s persistent work.
  5. All of the above criteria are integrated in an outstanding way as to demonstrate a consistent throughline from the beginning of a student’s path in the major through to the capstone. The paper clearly reflects a comprehensive synthesis of the student’s time in the major. 

Failing the Senior Capstone

Though rare, papers that fail the Senior Capstone share common low scores on all or several of the assessment criteria between both faculty readers, requiring a rewrite to improve accuracy, precision and clarity. Papers may also exhibit grave errors so as to require a rewrite or investigation. These grave errors include, but are not limited to:

  • Fundamental errors in understanding of theory and/or methods so as to thoroughly undermine the paper

  • Mischaracterizing the literature or subfield on which the research is based

  • Misalignment between the research question, methods and data

  • Unethical research practices including violating approved IRB protocols, and otherwise violating Belmont Report standards for respect for persons, beneficence and justice

  • Violation of Kenyon standards for academic integrity, e.g. plagiarism, fabrication, unauthorized collaboration, etc.

In most cases, students whose capstone papers are judged to have failed are asked to rewrite their paper incorporating advice from the faculty. The rewrite is due within 10 days of when they are notified of the results and a new letter from the department will be sent to the student indicating whether the paper has passed or failed.

Academic Integrity
Please consult the College’s Academic Integrity Policy.  


The Honors Program is designed to facilitate significant independent research by our department's finest students. Typically, the student proposes a topic for research in consultation with a member of the faculty who agrees to serve as the project advisor. The department then approves or rejects the honors research on the merit of the proposal itself as well as the student's past classroom performance, motivation to pursue excellence and demonstration of the organizational skills required for successful completion. In consultation with the project advisor, the student goes on to build an honors committee consisting of two members of the sociology faculty (including the advisor), one member from another department on campus and one member from another institution of higher education (chosen by the advisor). The student spends the senior year conducting the research and writing an honors thesis. The thesis is finally defended orally before the honors committee, the members of which determine whether to award no honors, Honors, High Honors or Highest Honors.

Students interested in reading for honors should meet with a faculty member no later than March of the junior year to discuss procedures and develop a proposal. Proposals are due by the end of the first week in April of the junior year. Students approved for participation in the Honors Program enroll in two semesters of "Senior Honors" (SOCY 497, 498) in their senior year.

Additional information about the sociology honors program is available on the department website.

Transfer Credit Policy

The sociology department typically accepts transfer credits from other colleges and universities for courses that are commensurate with the course offerings at Kenyon. Students should provide the department with the syllabus of the courses they wish to transfer. Students are especially encouraged to take courses that are not regularly offered in our curriculum.

We do not permit students to transfer credits earned through online evaluation or two-week special courses offered during winter breaks.

We do permit majors to transfer two courses earned while abroad for a semester and four courses earned while away for a complete academic year. Students must make arrangements for these provisions with their advisor and the department chair.