The SNF Agora Institute offers courses central to its mission of identifying, designing, and testing new mechanisms for strengthening civic engagement. The courses are taught by Hopkins faulty and visiting scholars whose work crosses both the academic and practical landscapes. Through these courses, students are able to broaden their understanding of the basic tenets of and practices required for healthy democracy.

Fall 2019 Courses

Course Title: Nationalism and the Politics of Identity (AS.190.379)
Instructor: Matthew Kocher
Departments: Political Science and International Studies
Schedule: Wednesday 1:30-3:50 p.m.

Nationalism ties powerful organizations to political mobilization, territory, and individual loyalty. Yet nationalism is typically studied in isolation from other social formations that depend upon organizational – individual linkages. Alternative types of identity category sometimes depend similarly upon organizations that collect and deploy resources, mobilize individuals, erect boundaries, and promote strong emotional connections among individuals as well as between individuals and institutions. In this class, we study classic and contemporary works on nationalism, drawn from multiple disciplinary and analytic traditions, in the comparative context of alternative forms of identity. The focus of the class will be primarily theoretical, with no regional or temporal limitations.

Course Title: Democracy and Development: Theory and Cases (AS.190.382)
Instructor: Sebastian Mazzuca
Departments: Political Science, International Studies, and the Program in Latin American Studies
Schedule: Monday & Wednesday 3:-3:50 p.m., Friday varies depending on section

Most wealthy countries are democracies. But not all democracies are wealthy—India, Costa Rica, and Mongolia are prominent examples of poor countries with democratic regimes. The course will examine the relation between economic development and political democratization under three big questions. (a) Under what conditions, and through which mechanisms, does economic development promote democracy? (b) If economic development is not possible in the foreseeable future, how do countries achieve stable democratization? (c) Under what conditions, and through which mechanisms, does democracy foster economic development?

Course Title: Dictatorship, Dissidence and Democracy: Central Europe in the 20th Century (AS.191.333)
Instructor: Anne Applebaum
Departments: SNF Agora Institute, Political Science, History, and International Studies
Schedule: TBA

Central Europe in the second half of the twentieth century was ground zero in the Cold War, as well as in the battle of ideas that accompanied it. In this course, we will first examine the theory of communism and the practice of Stalinism in the region; then seek to understand the tactics of dissent and the ideas behind it; and finally focus on the collapse of communist in 1989 and the struggle to “democratize” the region in the decade that followed. Over the course of the semester we will examine the relationship between political ideology and everyday life, seeking to understand what big concepts like ‘democracy’ and ‘dictatorship’ really meant for ordinary people from Warsaw and Tallinn to Budapest and East Berlin. We will also discuss Soviet, American and, in the latter part of the course, Russian foreign policy, with special emphasis on outsiders’ use of propaganda and violence to affect political change in the region.

Spring 2019 Courses

Course Title: Populism and Politics (AS.191.363)
Instructor: Yascha Mounk
Department: Political Science
Schedule: Monday 4:30-7 p.m.

Around the world, from Italy to Brazil, and from Hungary to the United States, populist candidates are fundamentally changing the political landscape. In this course, we explore the nature of populism; investigate whether populism poses an existential threat to liberal democracy; explore the causes of the populist rise; investigate the ways in which populism is a response to demographic change; and discuss what strategies might allow non-populist political actors to push back.

Course Title: Language and Advertising (AS.050.107)
Instructor: Kyle Rawlins
Department: Cognitive Science
Schedule: Monday & Wednesday 1:30-2:45 p.m.

Advertising pervades our culture; interactions with advertising are an unavoidable fact of modern life. This class uses tools from linguistics and cognitive science to analyze these interactions, and understand the impact of advertising on its viewers. A central theme is to treat ads as communicative acts, and explore the consequences — what can theories of communication (from linguistics, psychology, and philosophy) tell us about ads? How do ads use central features of human cognition to accomplish their aims? Do ads manipulate, and if so, how successfully? The theories of communication we explore include Gricean pragmatics, theories of speech acts, linguistic theories of presuppositions, and more. Students will collect, analyze, and discuss advertisements in all mediums.

Course Title: Future of American Democracy (AS.190.322)
Instructor: Rob Lieberman
Department: Political Science
Schedule: Tuesday 1:30-4 p.m.

For the most part, observers of American politics have not considered the possibility that the American democratic regime might be at risk. But the unexpected election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the subsequent course of his presidency have occasioned a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety about whether democracy in the United States is at risk and whether American political institutions can withstand the stresses of contemporary politics. This course will use the Trump era to explore the conditions that seem to threaten the stability of the American regime. We will begin by exploring the political circumstances that led to Trump’s rise. We will then examine what we can learn from the experience of other countries about the conditions that make democracy either robust or fragile. Finally, we will consider how a set of contemporary political conditions in the United States — extreme partisan polarization, intense racial antagonism, growing economic inequality, and expanded executive power — contribute to the challenges facing American democracy today and in the future

Course Title: Political Polarization (AS.190.473)
Instructor: Steven Teles
Department: Political Science
Schedule: Monday & Wednesday 1:30-2:45 p.m.

The American constitutional order, which was designed to operate without political parties, now has parties as divided as any in the democratic world. This course will examine explanations of how this happened, the consequences of party polarization for public policy and governance, and what if anything should be done about it.

Course Title: Freshmen Seminar: Public Opinion and Democracy (AS.230.224)
Instructor: Stephen L. Morgan
Department: Sociology
Schedule: Wednesday 3-5:30 p.m.

 How does public opinion shape electoral behavior and democratic governance, and how have these relationships evolved as techniques for measuring public opinion have developed since the 1950s? After a consideration of models of effective democratic governance, the course will consider how public opinion is measured and interpreted in the United States by private pollsters, university-based survey researchers, and data journalists. The course will consider competing perspectives on the sources of variation within mass public opinion, such as social class membership, racial and gender identity, religious affiliation, and party identification. Throughout the course, emphasis is placed upon the alternative modes of inquiry and writing that opposing analysts adopt. Students will learn to interpret and write about public opinion patterns from these perspectives. 

Intersession 2019 Courses

Course Title: How Democracies Die (AS.191.353)
Instructor: Daniel Ziblatt, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University
Department: Political Science
Date: January 14-18, 2019

Around the globe, democracy is under siege. New and old democracies face unprecedented challenges. The rise of norm-breaking demagogues, heightening political polarization, and economic inequality threaten the underpinnings of stable democracy. This course explores the history of democracy, different theories of democratic breakdown and explores how democracies die around the world today in order to think about what can be done to improve our own democracy.

By the end of the course, you will have a mastery of theories of democratic breakdown, an understanding of the warning signs of democracies in crisis, a knowledge of countries facing democratic crisis, and a grasp of the range of strategies to counteract democratic decline.

Course Title: In Search of Intelligent Debate (AS.191.355)
Instructor: Dana Wolfe, former executive producer for Nightline and Intelligence Squared US
Department: Political Science
Date: January 14-18, 2019

Democracy is only as strong as the discourse and decision-making of its citizens, yet across the world, individuals are increasingly unable to resolve or mediate competing claims.

This course will teach students how to elevate the state of our discourse – whether across the dinner table, in the classroom or on the national stage.  Students will examine the history of US debate, analyze different debates and techniques, and learn how to construct reasoned, fact-based arguments. Students will hear from experienced debaters and moderators from the national stage and will work in teams to research and produce a final debate project.

By the end of this course, students will understand the different styles of debate and how to construct a reasoned, fact based argument appropriate for different types of debate.  Students will also understand how to listen to competing points of view in order to enhance their ability for informed discussion.  In addition, students will have experienced firsthand how to construct and participate in an active debate.