Theme Fields

Theme fields can be selected only as a second field in your doctoral study. We offer such second field specializations in Law and Politics; Race, Ethnicity and Politics (REP); and Religion and Politics.

Law and Politics is a second field for those students who want to pursue research questions that are at the intersection of political science and legal studies. This interdisciplinary research encompasses a wide range of theoretical and empirical methods and addresses both normative and explanatory concerns. The relevant topics touch all of the traditional fields in political science. Some general themes include the legal relevance of international treaties and organizations, both domestically and globally; courts and judicial decision-making, including their independent effects on politics and policy; the relationship between legal and political governance structures; the determinants of both deviant behavior (like corruption) and legal compliance; and the interrelationship between legal, political and moral philosophy.

The Law and Politics second field allows political science graduate students to formally draw on the expertise of a number of members of the law faculty who work in areas that overlap substantially with the study of politics.

Second Field Requirements


4 courses. At least two of the courses for this second field must be selected from the law school curriculum. The list of courses in both law and political science that can be counted toward this requirement can be obtained from the head of the field.


All students who identify Law and Politics as their second field must successfully complete or place out of POLSCI 630 Probability and Linear Models in order to achieve field certification.

Race is central to the political fabric of the United States. One, therefore, cannot study American politics without studying racial politics. The changing context of the United States requires that we move beyond the historical understanding of race as one dominated by seeing the world solely in "black and white" terms. Latinos, Asians, American Indians, and other populations of color are now part of the construction of race in America and thus are increasingly important to the study of politics in general and racial politics in particular. A comparable dynamic is driving citizens in other parts of the world to see their nations in multi-racial terms. Moving beyond the national particularities of race creates space for cross fertilization and intellectual development. Understanding race in these terms requires those in American politics to engage race in terms encountered in comparative politics, in political theory, and in international relations – and vice-versa. The Department of Political Science at Duke University is uniquely positioned to take this global view of race, ethnicity and politics. More than almost any other political science department in the country, we have the largest group of faculty who has some aspect of race and ethnicity as a part of their ongoing research agenda. This critical mass of scholars uses a variety of methods, and believes in strong inter-subfield and interdisciplinary interaction. We have the strongest commitment of academic leadership at all levels of the University for the Study of race, ethnicity and politics of any political science department in the country.

Second Field Requirements

  • POLSCI 525S Race and American Politics
  • POLSCI 703S Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics
  • One of the following courses:
    • POLSCI 505S Race and Ethnic Politics in Comparative Perspective
    • POLSCI 719 Comparative Constitutional Design
    • POLSCI 659S Civil Wars
  • One additional REP-related course which may be taken in another department, with prior approval of the REP field chair.

Students who identify REP as their second field are required to take and pass the four-course departmental methods sequence.

Qualifying Procedure

Each student in the REP theme field will take a written and oral examination no later than September 30 in the third year. The written and oral examinations will assess whether or not the student has attained a firm command of the literature in the field. In the event of a failure in the first instance of taking the qualifying examination in REP, the rules in connection to retaking first-field qualifying examinations will be in effect.

Religion and Politics examines the continuing importance at both the theoretical and empirical levels of religion for social and political life. More specifically, the field explores how religious beliefs, practices and institutions affect social, economic and political behavior and how political and economic structures and institutions affect the practice of religion. We seek to stimulate an interdisciplinary approach to the study of religion, in which students will combine normative and empirical methods and concerns.

Although we are open to the study of all world religions and all world regions, the faculty members currently enrolled in this field focus mainly on the study of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism and cover mostly the U.S., Western Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. The field is composed of two tracks: (1) the normative track, grounded mainly on political theory and philosophy and (2) the empirical track, focused mainly on positive social sciences.

Second Field Requirement


4 courses.  For those in the normative track, we strongly recommend at least one course in the empirical track and for those in the empirical track we strongly recommend at least one course in the normative track. Two courses from outside the department can be counted toward fulfilling the course requirements in this field.

Students will work closely with the field director to develop a coherent curriculum.


All students who study and identify Religion and Politics as their second field must complete or place out of POLSCI 630 Probability and Linear Models in order to achieve field certification, or complete two semesters of a foreign language.