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Areas of Study

The Department offers the opportunity for major focus in three areas. In addition students may select from two other first minor fields as well as several dual degree programs. Students are also able to create individual third fields.

Major Fields

American Politics

American politics at Penn State emphasizes the mechanisms and processes by which democratic preferences are translated into public policy.  Faculty have a well-deserved reputation for studies that cross traditional lines such as examinations of political behavior in the context of institutions like courts or electoral rules, and studies exploring how institutions influence government responsiveness to citizens and interest groups.  Penn State’s award-winning faculty study topics such as state politics, interest groups, public policy, and political behavior, blending the micro-foundation elements of political behavior with an institutional emphasis on the rules and structures of political institutions.  Collaborative research projects provide numerous opportunities for graduate student training and research aided by the Center for American Political Responsiveness, which provides opportunities for graduate students to develop their own research and interact with faculty from around the country.

Comparative Politics

Comparative politics concerns the cross-national study of political institutions and behavior. At Penn State, we emphasis the areas of democratization and development, social movements, political institutions in democracies and dictatorships, corruption, comparative political economy—especially development—and parties and government formation in advanced democracies. The faculty combine formal, qualitative, and quantitative methods in their research and training of graduate students. Penn State’s comparative faculty have regional interests in Europe (both Eastern and Western), Asia, and Latin America. In addition, the field benefits from dual degree Ph.D. programs in African Studies and Asian Studies.

International Relations

International relations at Penn State emphasizes the study of the causes and consequences of international conflict, as well as intrastate conflict (civil wars), international political economy, and terrorism.  We broadly endorse the bargaining perspective in the study of conflict, and thus leverage departmental strengths in formal and quantitative methods.  Strengths in international political economy, especially in foreign investment and international development are bolstered by political economy offerings in the department’s comparative subfield. The IR subfield includes the Program on Empirical International Relations, a formal program that emphasizes training in applying scientific research methods to international relations. We are also the proud location of the headquarters of the ­Peace Science Society (International), including the editorship of the journal Conflict Management and Peace Science.

Political Methodology

Penn State boasts one of the strongest political methodology faculties in the country, with an unusually large number of our faculty routinely working and publishing in the field.  Faculty specialties include methods of causal inference (including experimental and quasi-experimental design), machine learning and textual analysis, semi-and non-parametric models, survival and time series analysis, multivariate statistics, event data analysis, formal modeling, game theory, and survey research.  In addition, the Quantitative Social Science Initiative (QuaSSI) provides Ph.D. students with a rich set of additional opportunities for the study of political methodology, including pre-doctoral fellowships, external speaker series, and regular specialized conferences on emerging topics in methodology.

Dual Degree Programs

Dual PhD in Asian Studies

Dual MA/PhD in Women's Studies

Dual PhD in African Studies

Dual PhD in Social Data Analytics


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