What to Expect from Government Studies Courses Offered within a Liberal Arts Program

Flags waving with capitol building in background

A liberal arts curriculum is a pretty nuanced thing—most programs are tailorable to many interests while cultivating the critical thinking that helps you become a well-rounded, worldly individual and global thinker. You will take a variety of courses in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and, most intriguing, they will offer courses that explore how these fields intersect.

What all liberal arts degree programs have in common, however, is their focus on getting students to consider how they look at the world and humanity. That makes liberal studies uniquely well suited to serve as a backdrop for studying government and politics.

How do we use art, humanities, sciences, and social sciences to make sense of our world, and how can we refine our studies and practices so that we can better understand ourselves and one another?

Government is one of the common ways by which humans find unity, and also separation, as we use it to distinguish ourselves from other cultures and nation states.

Studying government within the context of a liberal arts degree, or perhaps choosing government as your specific focus within the degree, will offer you a variety of approaches to understanding how politics, types of government, and policies, from the international to the local, impact individuals, communities, and society at large.

Why Study Government as Part of a Liberal Arts Program?

Government and politics are all around us. Our expectations of our government are baked into our culture, our art, our media, and our daily existence.

The importance of studying government is immeasurable. Knowing how your government functions, and, most importantly, how you and those around you function as being governed, are essential for drawing inferences about the past, present, and future of humanity.

By studying government specifically within the context of a liberal arts education, you’ll enhance your understanding of how history, human behavior, the arts, economics, and language influence political policies and government functions. Ultimately, studying government gives you a more holistic understanding of the world, the ability to ask questions. Within earning your liberal arts degree, the courses that you take related to government will enhance your abilities in a variety of ways.

Government Studies Courses in a Liberal Arts Program Will Improve Your Close-Reading and Analysis Skills

Liberal arts programs are designed to help you observe what is happening around you; they’re designed to teach you how to look at your surroundings, collect ideas, and make connections amongst your various ideas. When you study government in the context of a liberal arts education, you get to delve into some of the most influential historical documents, policies, and laws of our time.

From the Monroe Doctrine to the direct text of Roe vs. Wade, you’ll practice how to close-read those documents and draw inferences about how they influence laws, policies, and people of their time.

In courses like Witnessing Justice, Race, Law and American History, you’ll examine historical and modern narratives about race and social justice. You may take a class on society, politics, and education, which will require that you read popularized speeches and publications about the state of education in the early United States and analyze how these texts influenced present approaches to teaching and learning.

In addition to government-related documents, you’ll look for examples of politics and government in popular culture, learning how to analyze films, novels, poetry, and even music of a particular time period. You’ll read poets of a particular decade in the twentieth century and ask how they used language to participate in the civil rights movement. When you apply this practice to contemporary examples of music and television, you’ll analyze how the arts impact politics, and how politics impact the arts.

Government Studies in a Liberal Arts Program Will Inspire Consistent Critical Thought

Group with hands up asking questionsIn government courses, you will read texts that offer perspectives and critical theories on contemporary social and political issues. Those earning a liberal arts degree will be asked to examine epistemologies—how we come to know what we know. These epistemologies influence our political ideologies, which influence the candidates that we elect, the policies that we support, and the outcomes and impacts of those policies.

In other words, you’ll ask the how and why questions behind historical events, developing an understanding for how we’ve come to know what we know. You’ll become adept at reading between the lines, looking at how the media influences politics in history and the present. You’ll learn how to examine the deeper layers of an incident or lawmaker’s argument about a new environmental policy.

In an age of information overload, staying informed and asking questions must not be at odds with one another. We must look at what we know critically and inspire those around us to do the same. Studying government in the context of a liberal arts degree will require that you study politics not in isolation or as a specialty, but for how politics impact all other systems and disciplines, from literature to science. You’ll gain a more holistic understanding of causality, and a more thorough understanding of the world around you.

Become Interested… Become Interesting

A liberal arts degree, while offering courses in niche topics, encourages you to take a holistic approach when examining these topics and issues. This approach not only encourages, but demands, that you examine how art, politics, and religion all intersect to capture the culture and behaviors of humanity.

For instance, you may take a course on Victorian female novelists and explore how the literature of that time period reflected Britain’s expanding empire and growing economic disparities. You may study Impressionist paintings and learn how political upheavals that influenced French society were represented through art.

You may find that this approach makes you interested in topics that you haven’t before considered, and after reading the course texts, participating in discussions, and completing projects that put these new topics in context, you will be better equipped to educate others about how anything from nineteenth century American poetry to digital storytelling on social media have impacted politics and society throughout the past and the present.

Government Studies in the Liberal Arts Don’t Shy Away From Spirited Debate

Dr. Peter Boghossian, professor of philosophy at Portland State University and co-author of How To Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide, stresses that living in a liberal society—a society where new ideas are welcome for debate and where people of dissenting opinions work together to solve social and political issues—means being open to rethinking what you know. He says in his speech, “The Way Forward”:

“Being willing to revise our beliefs prevents us from becoming ideologues, and it prevents us from morphing into the thing that we’re fighting. The gateway to belief revision is being willing to say, ‘I don’t know’.”

Socratic seminars and open discussions are the hallmarks of many liberal arts degree courses, and particularly in courses related to government and politics, participants are required to present topics, texts, and questions that incite debate, disagreement, and a variety of responses amongst their classmates.

Practicing tough conversations in an academic setting will make you better equipped to ask thoughtful, focused questions that will provoke those around you to rethink how they view contemporary issues in politics and beyond. You will become more open-minded, and you will have the tools to teach others to do the same, making a world that is more thoughtful, open, and humble.

Government Studies Courses in a Liberal Arts Program Focus on Solutions to the Issues of the Day

Much of the coursework involved in a government-related course in the context of a liberal arts degree will prompt you to examine the impacts of government decisions—whether related to economic policies, homeland or international security, or perhaps the criminal justice system—and to brainstorm, outline, and propose new ways of solving issues at various levels.

You may debate how governments have responded to contemporary issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a comparison of how countries of varying social, economic, and political systems instituted mandates and lockdowns, and use these questions to re-examine the role of government.

You may consider a new way of looking at issues around systemic racism and a new way of approaching policies related to race and social justice.

You may examine in a course like Psychopathy and Society how lawmakers have addressed mental health issues throughout history and suggest new ways to fund and run programs for increasing awareness around mental health disorders as well as providing resources for those who suffer.

Studying government within a liberal arts degree gives you permission to explore and brainstorm solutions to issues that impact you as well as your immediate community and the world.

Looking Ahead: Studying Government as a Path to Thoughtful Activism

Young activist holding equal rights signHow you put your liberal arts degree courses to use will depend on your specific interests, how you interpret and complete your assignments, and your approach to synthesizing all that you learn from many courses and areas of study. One thing that you may notice in many of your liberal arts degree courses is that, within the context of government, they have a focus on activism. You’ll explore ways that reproductive laws impact women around the world in courses about gender and international politics. You may explore the ethics of environmental policies in a course about space exploration.

If you’re approaching your liberal arts degree courses through a government lens, you’ll see government as an entity that manifests in our culture, all around us, all of the time.

Overall, studying government in the context of a liberal arts degree will push your understanding of politics and governing systems beyond the technical and into the intersectional. You’ll see how politics and governments influence the arts, culture, and humanity as a whole and vice versa.

Knowing the many ways that you and those around you can influence politics and government is empowering. When you see government’s influence in the arts, you are better equipped to understand how larger systems—our laws, our nations, our borders, and our pivotal political documents—impact how we live our lives. Understanding this allows you to educate those around you and to empower others to see government in their humanity as well.

In “Why I Write,” George Orwell captures the inextricable relationship between politics and ourselves when he cites that one of his reasons for writing will always be political.

For Orwell, all writing—and perhaps, all art, film, anything produced by humans—is laden with the “desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after. Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias. The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”