Rice to offer new interdisciplinary minor in politics, law and social thought

What is freedom? Are states necessary? What is the function of government? What are the foundations of law? Beginning in the fall, Rice’s School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences will offer a new interdisciplinary minor addressing these and other big questions in political theory and law.

Carl Caldwell

The politics, law and social thought minor will provide Rice undergraduates with a unique opportunity to study the big questions in political theory and law that stand behind policy decisions and that shape contemporary society in a global setting, said the directors of this new subject area. The politics, law and social thought minor is being directed by Carl Caldwell, the Samuel G. McCann Professor of History, and Christian Emden, professor of German studies. It will be administered by the School of Humanities’ new Department of Classical and European Studies, which will result from the July 1 merger of the departments of German Studies, French Studies and Classical Studies.

“The minor combines political theory with a long-term historical perspective,” Caldwell said. “It puts political theory in context, from Athenian democracy to the protest movements in the 21st century, from Renaissance city government to the postnational state.”

Emden said the impetus for creating the minor was based on student demand for political theory courses, which currently lack a natural home at Rice and are distributed across a wide range of departments in different schools. “At Rice, humanities courses with a political theory component attract some of our brightest students,” he said. “Rice students, in other words, would like to read Machiavelli, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Rawls, Negri and Hardt and learn more about the contexts in which political ideas gain momentum and how these ideas relate to contemporary developments, from demands for global justice and human rights to new social movements and forms of political citizenship.”


The interest in political theory is not felt just at Rice, Emden said. “Few areas in the humanities and social sciences have, over the past 20 years or so, experienced such rapid growth as political theory,” he said. “Even though the academic study of politics in the U.S. has moved into a more quantitative direction over the past few decades, and even though political scientists and philosophers have repeatedly proclaimed the death of political theory since the 1950s, books in political theory tend to ‘outsell’ most other academic books on Amazon and similar online book sellers.”

The minor’s core faculty include Caldwell and Emden Luis Duno-Gottberg, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese; James Faubion, professor of anthropology; Melissa Marschall, professor of political science; and Donald Morrison, professor of philosophy and classics. Rice President David Leebron, professor of political science, is among the minor’s affiliated faculty.

For more information about upcoming politics, law and social thought courses, which are open to all undergraduate students from all backgrounds, see the respective Rice 2015-16 course catalog page.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.