6: College of Arts and Sciences

General Information | Academic Information | Departments and Programs | Faculty

Afro-American and African Studies | Anthropology | Archaeology | Art | Asian and Middle Eastern
Asian Studies | Astronomy | Biology | Chemistry | Classics | Cognitive Science | Comparative Literature
Drama | Economics | English | Environmental Sciences | French | German | Government and Foreign Affairs
History | Latin American Studies | Linguistics | Mathematics | Medieval Studies
Middle East Studies | Music | Personal Skills | Philosophy | Physics | Political and Social Thought
Psychology | Religious Studies | Service Physical Education | Slavic | Sociology
Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese | Statistics | University Seminars | Women's Studies

Program in Political and Social Thought

Overview   This well-regarded interdisciplinary program was begun more than two decades ago, with a grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities, by a group of University faculty from several departments. It offers to qualified students the opportunity to pursue the study of society, and the study of "politics" (in both its older and larger, and its newer and smaller, sense) without being limited by the boundaries, or the methodological preoccupations, of the relevant disciplines. Able students can, with faculty advice, fashion a program of study in political and/or social matters that fits their own interests and purposes. Some place the greater emphasis on thought—on significant political/social thinkers (Aristotle, Karl Marx, Max Weber, John Dewey) or concepts (justice, property, human rights). Others place greater emphasis on concrete studies—in the past (Spanish missionaries in Central America in the fifteenth century; labor unions in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in the 1930s) or in the present (the continuing impact of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; the condition of women in the Third World). Some students are more theoretically inclined, others more practically inclined. One advantage of the program is that it can be, within limits, custom-tailored to the student's interest. Another is its interdisciplinary character, allowing students to study politics and society wherever they are best examined for their purpose.

Among the departments that have played a considerable role in the program are government and foreign affairs, history, sociology, anthropology, women's studies, religion, philosophy, and more recently, economics; English and foreign language departments may also play a role.

The program is an excellent major for a variety of future activities—in many cases better than a major in a single department. Students graduating from this program have been accepted into top graduate schools, including Harvard Law, Yale Divinity, Stanford Business, and many top graduate programs.

Faculty   William Lee Miller, the program's director, is Commonwealth Professor of Political and Social Thought, formerly Miller Center Professor of Ethics and Institutions, a writer and scholar with a long list of publications and a varied experience.

Assistant Director to the PST program is Professor Michael Smith of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Government and Foreign Affairs.

As an interdisciplinary program with high prestige and able students, PST can draw upon the ablest faculty members from all the relevant departments to serve as advisors and lecturers in the seminars. The seminars are small enough to allow real exchange, not only with one's fellow students but with faculty as well.

Students   Another advantage to this major is one's fellow students. Each spring fifteen students who are preparing to enter their third year are selected for the program from a fairly substantial applicant pool. Students are chosen on the basis of strong grades, a writing sample, a faculty recommendation, and a short essay explaining the student's interest in the field. The program attracts able, creative, and independent students with a strong interest, theoretical and/or practical, in politics and society.

These fifteen selected students share a seminar in both the fall and spring semesters of the third year, and a thesis workshop in the fall of the fourth year; all students in the major take these courses, open to them exclusively, so that they develop a strong common bond, with informal and social reinforcement.

Requirements for Major

  1. Foundations   Each student must complete at least six credits from these foundational courses, or equivalents approved by the director:
    ANTH 301Theory and History of Anthropology
    ECON 412Evolution of Economic Thought (Prerequisite: ECON 201)
    GFPT 301Ancient Political Theory
    GFPT 302Modern Political Theory
    GFPT 303Contemporary Political Theory
    GFPT 305American Political Theory
    HIEU 367, 368History of Modern Europe
    HIEU 378European Intellectual History
    HIEU 380Origins of Contemporary Thought
    PHIL 318Nietzsche to Habermas
    PHIL 356Classics in Political Philosophy
    PHIL 357Political Philosophy
    RELC 233History of Christian Political and Social Thought
    SOC 302Introduction to Social Theory
    SOC 503Classical Sociological Theory

  2. Area Studies   Each student is required to concentrate in three different area studies. An area is defined as a particular intellectual theme or subfield of interest to be investigated in the course of one's studies. These areas can be derived from within, between, or outside traditional disciplines and can be large or small. Some examples of area studies might include ancient political thought—or Socrates and the state; media studies— or violence on television; 18th-19th century intellectual history—or early Marxism; applied ethics; human rights; church and state; feminism; Middle East studies; African-American studies—or black women writers.

    For each area, the student must complete two relevant courses at or above the 300 level. The total six courses necessary to fulfill the area requirement must be drawn from at least three different disciplines, programs, or departments. Hence: three areas; two courses/area; three disciplines.

    Taken together, the three areas of study should both (1) be constructed in a coherent fashion and (2) form the general basis of study for the thesis.

  3. Seminars and Thesis Research (14 credits)   Each PST major must complete the following seminars. They are exclusively for PST majors and a foundation for the program:
    PST 485Introductory Seminar (3 credits) third year, fall semester - Great political and social thinkers and movements. Many sessions led by Univeristy faculty from several departments.
    PST 487Advanced Seminar (3 credits) third year, spring semester - Continuing with notable political and social thinkers and movements. Various approaches to the study of society. A larger proportion of the recent and concrete. Some sessions led by University faculty from several departments.
    PST  497YThesis Research (6 credits) fourth year, fall and spring semesters - The thesis, an independent year-long project built upon one's studies, developed with the advice of two faculty members chosen by the student, is an essential part of the program.
    PST 498Thesis Workshop (2 credits) fourth year, fall semester - Taken for credit only. This workshop provides a structured atmosphere for discussion of each student's thesis research.

Admission into the Program in Political and Social Thought   We invite interested students now in their fourth semester in the College of Arts and Sciences to apply for admission in this interdisciplinary program. As a distinguished major, the program admits only twenty new students a year. A 3.2 cumulative grade point average is generally required for admission. The program assumes the students will be in Charlottesville their third and fourth years. It is highly desirable (but not mandatory) that students applying for the PST program should have at least one of the courses listed under the foundations of political and social thought by the end of their second year.

Students interested in becoming PST majors should submit the following:

  1. A completed PST application form.
  2. A letter of recommendation by a faculty member.
  3. A 300-500 word essay. This essay should address the following two questions: (1) Why are you interested in becoming a PST major? (2) At this (tentative) point, what three area studies would you select in constructing your PST curriculum? Your answer does not obligate you to a particular course of studies if you are accepted into the program.
  4. A sample of writing. You may submit a previously completed term paper or essay (preferably with the instructor's comments on it) or a piece of creative writing.

The above materials should be brought to the PST office in 248-A Cabell Hall by March 1. Candidates should hear from the committee by the end of March.

The director of the PST program holds a meeting for the prospective majors in early February to answer any questions about admission procedures and program requirements. The time and place of the meeting is announced in the student newspapers. Students may also obtain this information by calling the PST office at (804) 982-2235.

Additional Information   For more information write to the Program Director, Political and Social Thought Program, 248-A Cabell Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, (804) 982-2235.

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