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AU Honors Curriculum

Our curriculum is designed to be flexible so that students are able to make the most of their time at American University. Honors students can complete the Honors curriculum and still major or minor in any available subject, can double major, study abroad, participate in NCAA athletics, and even pursue early graduation or one of the five-year combined BA/MA programs.

Most importantly, our scaffolded approach to supporting student intellectual exploration allows students to pursue their scholarly passions while gaining crucial academic inquiry. Students in the AU Honors program are able to double major, can study abroad, and can complete the program in three years if they intend to graduate early.  

First Year


Begin in wonder...

Approach and explore a topic with an awareness of the strengths and limitations of diverse intellectual perspectives.


Fall Semester

CORE-106, Honors section of Complex Problems Seminar (3 credits) 

HNRS-150, AU Honors Experiential Learning (1 credit)

WRTG-100, Honors Section of College Writing --OR-- WRTG-106, College Writing, Intensive (3 credits)


Spring Semester

HNRS-151, AU Honors Inquiry Experience (1 credit)

Faculty-led projects intended to help students engage in the process of knowledge-creation and knowledge presentation.


Second Year


Journey in curiosity...

Develop and execute a rigorous scholarly plan for generating knowledge, in dialogue with a variety of traditions of inquiry.

Fall Semester

HNRS-395, Theories of Inquiry 
A broad conceptual exploration of different ways of producing and presenting knowledge across fields and disciplines; emphasis is on developing an appreciation of the strengths and limitations of different approaches, and on the formation of research questions in different traditions (3 credits). 

Spring Semester

HNRS-398, Honors Challenge Course
Building on skills learned in ToI, students form groups, choose an AU faculty mentor, and tackle a research question of their own design. Students share their research with a larger audience during the Challenge Course Showcase (3 credits). 

Learn More About HNRS-398

Third and Fourth Year


Dare to Know...

Students participate in increasingly independent inquiry experiences and contribute to knowledge, creative expression, and meaningful change. 


Honors Colloquium
Honors students take 2 Honors Colloquium courses. 3 credits must be either HNRS-400 Advanced Honors Colloquium OR another upper-division Honors offering elsewhere on campus.
3 credits can be another of the above OR an Honors supplement affixed to an upper-division course on campus or abroad. These courses are most often taken junior and/or senior year (6 credits). 


Honors Capstone

Create a capstone in your major or through Honors. Examples: traditional scholarly thesis, creative work, case study, business plan, media project, etc. 

Learn More About HNRS-498

Fall 2020 CORE-106

An Honors section of the Complex Problems Seminar, taken the fall semester of the first year (3 credits). Must be simultaneously registered with the corresponding section of HNRS-150, AU Honors Experiential Learning course(1 credit).

Prof. Daniel Esser

The course explores how and why equilibria around questions of legitimate action in the areas of domestic governance, foreign policy, and international interventions form and why they often remain contentious. The course encourages students to understand ideas of legitimacy as bound in time and space, i.e., what is considered legitimate by some societies at some point in time may not be considered legitimate by others. Students discover how different modes of production and resulting philosophical disputes and political agendas drive the social construction of legitimate action. The course draws primarily on sociological scholarship but embraces an interdisciplinary approach. It comprises lectures, student presentations, and case-based classroom debates. A guided tour of the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center at Mount Vernon and to the United States Supreme Court help anchor key concepts in historical and contemporary contexts. Introductory training on interviews, surveys and experimental research designs enables experiential learning by empowering students to conduct their own research based on primary data collection in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


Prof. Jeff Middents

This seminar examines questions of contemporary world cinema from multiple perspectives by working back and forth between concepts of examining single, individual texts and broader, globally relevant contexts. As part of that project, each student studies in detail a single international film of their choice made between 2002 and 2017. In addition to traditional writing and research projects, all students craft a 5- to 7-minute short film that visually presents their argument concerning their film. No previous editing experience required.

Prof. Joanne Allen

When a New York resident sued the Metropolitan Museum in 2015 for displaying allegedly ‘racist’ paintings of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, it was simply the latest iteration of an enduring philosophical debate. What does God look like? Is the divine representable? Is it morally dangerous to visualize divinity? With such high potential for error or offense, why even bother? Utilizing DC’s rich art museums and centers of contemporary religious practice, ‘Depicting the Divine’ explores the controversies and orthodoxies surrounding godly representations across geographies, temporalities, and cultures. We will attend to issues such as politics, race, and gender through case studies from across the geohistorical spectrum. For example, why did fifteenth-century Persian leaders sanction manuscripts depicting an extravagantly dressed, haloed Mohammed? What can the reactions to a modern sculpture of a female crucified figure tell us about associations between godliness and the male physique? How can a Russian abstract artist claim that a single black square represents ‘the face of God’? Drawing on a wide range of sources – from analysis of ancient scriptural texts to engagement with DC community leaders – students will investigate arguments for and against representation of the divine, and analyze the visual strategies used by artists constrained by dogmatic limitations. In a globalized society which regularly witnesses terrorist destruction of religious images, depicting the divine is a complex and ancient problem still relevant today.

Prof. Keith Leonard

When 1960s civil rights activists chanted “black is beautiful,” they were placing the beauty of black people and black culture at the center of their pursuit of justice.  Why would they do such a thing?  In this course we will try to answer this question by wondering aloud about the social force of artistic beauty.  Many classic theorists framed aesthetic experience as happily, affirmatively separate from petty social concerns, and that might be your wise intuition too.  Yet many a dictator has banished dissident writers.  Moreover, the fact that a disproportionate majority of beauty queens, literary prize winners, and esteemed artists in the US are of European descent suggests that our aesthetic values are very much informed by our social ones. By comparing the diverse perspectives of theorists like Aristotle, African Americans artist and intellectuals, and several contemporary scholars, and by attending several literary and cultural events at AU or in DC, we will explore this relationship between aesthetic values and social values so that we can understand, for example, the social significance of Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer prize or the power of Beyonce’s sashay.  We will do so because, as those 1960s activists recognized, aesthetic judgment not only makes and breaks careers, it can affect how entire communities are treated, from homelessness to gentrification. Taking up a problem urgent even in Aristotle’s time, we will try to capture with precision how beautiful things elicit emotions, what kinds of emotions are produced, and how those experiences move people, maybe even to just social action.  

Prof. Shawn Bates

Political and social leaders accuse each other of it, and are accused by a media that itself is then condemned for it. It is tweeted, re-tweeted, articles are written, journals published, and blogs devoted to it – but what is “Corruption”? And how has the mention of it become so pervasive, while there seems to be no set definition or even direction? Has anyone ever asked you for a favor? Have you ever asked for one? How did you thank them for the favor – and when? Before or after they have done what you asked, helped you with an assignment, let you borrow notes, or given you a recommendation for a job? Did you, or they, ask for something in return? Are these simple “favors” or quid pro quos? Were you bartering or bargaining for a service or good? When does a “favor” become “corruption”? There are governments accused of being cleptocracies – governments of organized thieves composed of individuals whose only goal is to legally take as much money and resources from others as possible in order to enrich themselves. This kind of corruption seems easy to define. But what about a payment to a border guard to let you pass? You have the legal right to pass, but a small gift, a token of your appreciation for the job the guard is doing, is expected. And while it might not be legally required, if you don’t tip, then the next time you are going through that crossing it might take a little longer, or your packages receive a little more scrutiny, or maybe the border just isn’t open today – at least not for you. This course will examine values, systems, and institutions across the globe - and down the street.