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Comparative and Regional Studies | SIS

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Themes and Regions


The common themes cutting across regions can be divided into the following dimensions:

  • Comparative Political Economy
  • Comparative Governance
  • Comparative Political, Social, and Cultural Changes
  • Comparative Foreign Policy and Security

Below are examples of specific cross-cutting themes that provide a basis for comparative inquiry and facilitate the transfer of analytical skills from one region to another.

  • Civil societies, markets, and states
  • Authoritarianism and democracy
  • Colonialism and post-colonialism
  • Globalization, regionalism, and local communities
  • Identities of class, gender, race, ethnicity, and nation
  • Nationalism
  • Region, justice society, and human rights
  • Political violence and revolution
  • Urban politics and immigration
  • Social movements and contentious politics
  • Social networks, migration, and transnational cultures


Africa: The concentration in Sub-Saharan Africa covers some 48 states south of the Sahara. The study of Africa has four broad themes: state, society, economy, and international affairs. African states have grappled with the need for effective institutions, responsive political processes, and accountable leadership. The problems of autocracy and difficulties of democratic development are acute. The nature of African societies poses important questions such as the context of governance, the roles of civil society, and ethnic and communal diversity.

The Americas: This concentration focuses on the historical and growing interconnectedness of the countries of the Americas. Courses in this program explore the evolution of United States-Latin American relations, beginning with colonialism and continuing to the present, and domestic politics in the region. Specific courses examine topical issues, such as the historical genesis of race relations and their impact today; the evolution of the cold war and its impact on the region; the transnationalization of the drug war; and neoliberalism and its effects on social relations. 

Asia: Combining comparative studies with Asian regional studies, the Asia concentration provides students an opportunity to examine the rise of modern and contemporary Asia from both historical and theoretical perspectives. Although our primary focus is on East Asia — namely China , Japan, and Korea — other sub-regions, such as Southeast Asia and South Asia are also covered. Courses probe issues related to domestic politics, democratization, policy-making processes, political economy, security and foreign policy.

Europe: The concentration in European studies focuses on Western and Eastern Europe through a broad range of courses on security and foreign policy, political economy, regional integration, and public policy-making. The curriculum highlights contemporary political challenges facing European governments.

Islamic Studies in SIS seeks to promote scholarship, fair and accurate analysis, and preparation of students in understanding Islam and the Muslim community in the United States and throughout the world. Themes include democratization in the Muslim world, women and Islam, Islam in the media, Islamic politics in the Middle East, Islam and terrorism among others. Our Islamic scholars have conducted groundbreaking scholarly field projects accompanied by American University students. The fostering of an understanding of Islam is accomplished through courses, events, invited speakers, and other education efforts. Public dialogue involving scholars, public officials, students, religious leaders of all denominations, and other constituencies have contributed to constructing a program that is innovative, far-sighted, and rigorous.

Middle East: Courses on the Middle East highlight society and the state; internally and externally derived processes of social change; restructuring political regimes; cultural, religious, and ethnic identities; intra-regional conflicts and the involvement of the superpowers.

Russia and Central Eurasia: A rich tapestry of European and Asian cultures has shaped the development of Russia and Central Eurasia. Courses on the newly independent states — Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia — focus on the persistence of historical tensions between authoritarian and democratic political cultures and the dramatic transformations that have taken place since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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