Skip to content

Through a combination of publications, research, teaching, and extracurricular activities, our faculty, students, and alumni share strengths in certain areas of research and engagement. Explore this section of the website to learn more about our areas of expertise. These are not necessarily concentration areas but are, instead, core areas of expertise that can be found at all levels of our curriculum and through the research and interests of our faculty and students. The Department of Political Science offers many exciting and challenging opportunities to develop your interest, knowledge, and skills in the world of government and politics.

Research in Political Science

1. Research intensive classes

POLS 2399 Research Methods

Examines the range of research methods and designs used in political science, based on applying the logic of social scientific inquiry. Reviews experimental research, comparative methods, case studies, interviewing, surveys, program evaluation, and other topics relevant to the discipline, as well as questions related to the practice of research ethics. Course activities include intensive writing assignments by students.

POLS 4701 Senior Capstone

Integrates and assesses the concepts and skills developed by students throughout the political science curriculum, including both experiential and classroom-based components. Requires extensive reflection by students on their various educational experiences as well as research projects involving individual and group presentations. Topics include contemporary political issues and relevant literature in the discipline of political science. Consideration is also given to career options for political science students. Required for political science majors and fulfills part of the experiential education requirement.

POLS 4703 Senior Thesis

Offers students an opportunity to conduct a significant research project under faculty supervision on a topic within the discipline of political science. Research question is formulated and analyzed through data gathering and a review of relevant literature in political science and related fields

(Faculty supervision needs to be secured the semester prior)

POLS 4992 Directed Study

Offers independent work under the direction of members of the department on a chosen topic. Course content depends on instructor. May be repeated without limit. (Individual Instruction Form needs to be submitted)


2. Independent research projects

POLS 2991 Research Practicum

Involves students in collaborative research under the supervision of a faculty member. Offers students an opportunity to learn basic research methods in the discipline. Requires permission of instructor. May be repeated once for up to 4 total credits (Individual Instruction Form needs to be submitted)

POLS 4991 Research

Offers an opportunity to conduct research under faculty supervision. May be repeated once. (Individual Instruction Form needs to be submitted)

3. Honors in the Major

POLS 4970. Junior/Senior Honors Project 1

Focuses on in-depth project in which a student conducts research or produces a product related to the student’s major field. Combined with Junior/Senior Project 2 or college-defined equivalent for 8-credit honors project. May be repeated without limit.

POLS 4971. Junior/Senior Honors Project 2

Focuses on second semester of in-depth project in which a student conducts research or produces a product related to the student’s major field. May be repeated without limit. Prerequisite(s): POLS 4970 with a minimum grade of D-

Faculty Research Areas

Do you wonder why President Clinton agreed to undergo emergency surgery on his injured leg in 1997 but refused to accept general anesthesia? Why Newt Gingrich, when Speaker of the House, was removed from office by his own party in 1999? Why Justice John Paul Stevens – appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ford in 1975 – refused to resign from the Court until  2010, when he was 90? Why the Democratic and Republican Parties have become so ideologically oriented that they cannot agree on much of anything now except to disagree?

Whether or not you’re a citizen of the United States, the American system of government appears to be filled with mysteries. The faculty who teach American politics courses explore why the political system devised by the Framers of our Constitution has come to be described  in so many contradictory ways:   “broken,” “frustrating,” “creative,” “magnificent,”  “convoluted,”  “wondrous,”  “deadlocked,”  or, by some, “the product of  divine  inspiration.”

Teaching and Research

In our classes, students learn about issues such as:

  • Why the federal system is now locked in bitterness and conflict;
  • The impact of having a political campaign process for president that lasts as much as two years before a president is elected;
  • The role of the President, his powers  and such matters as how his socialization, health, and life experiences  shape the way  he performs in office;
  • Why Congress – an institution that once was once described as  “the  greatest deliberative body in the world” – is now seen as an ineffectual, even counter-productive, branch of government;
  • The Supreme Court, and how interpretations of the Constitution have changed over time, affecting laws, the legal system, and the daily lives of the American people;
  • The role of state and local governments, which often function as laboratories  or training grounds for the rest of the nation and, at other times, as sources of discord and dissension;
  • The problems posed by urbanization and suburbanization and how these trends may be guided in constructive ways.

If you are intrigued by the various features and complexities of the American political system, anticipate studying for a career in the law or in the public sector at the national, state or local level,  or even in the private sector where the skills we help develop are also very relevant, we invite you  to consider studying within the Political Science Department at Northeastern.

Our faculty our known for their excellence in teaching – to date, seven have won Excellence in Teaching Awards. Many have published path-breaking books, articles in some of the most prestigious journals in political science, and treatises in major law journals. They are regularly invited to speak at conferences, civic meetings, and at other major universities in the United States and abroad and are interviewed for the mass media. They serve as consultants on challenging public sector projects in Massachusetts and other states and at the level of the national government as well. They have served as members of commissions, advisory committees, and study groups that have authored major reports on the national, state and local levels.

Are authoritarian meritocracies more successful in developing their countries than those that adopt a Western model of democracy? Could the Chinese blackmail the United States by threatening to dump billions of US Dollars they hold in reserve? Why would European states agree to relinquish many of their sovereign rights in exchange for a unified Europe? How does one barter cattle for computer chips?

The Department of Political Science offers an entire range of courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels on international relations and comparative politics, from international organizations, international security, and U.S. Foreign Policy to international political economy, international law, international conflict, international organizations, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict; from courses on development administration, the developing world, Chinese, Latin American, and European Politics, to comparative democratization, revolution, terrorism, and more. “Democracy Studies,” a cornerstone of the discipline of political science, call on all aspects of the teaching and research of its department faculty: issues of democracy not only within the American context but also on a comparative basis relevant to other advanced industrial states and emerging nations. As students learn, institutionalizing democratic values in a stable state can be difficult. Knowledge of the evolution of the democratic state, its cultural and historic roots, its structure and the forces in a society that challenge or support its operation, is critical to appreciating and promoting its longevity.

Are the Occupy settlements in various cities protected by the First Amendment ‘right of the people peaceably to assemble’?  Did Congress exceed its constitutional authority in enacting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with the controversial individual mandate provision?  Should Saif Gaddafi be tried in the International Criminal Court or by a domestic court in Libya?  If you are interested in these types of questions, then you might want to consider the study of law and legal issues in the Department of Political Science.

The study of law and legal issues in the Department of Political Science was pioneered by Matthews Distinguished Professor Robert Cord in the 1970s.  A leading national authority on the Establishment Clause, Professor Cord for many years brought the fruits of his research and writing to the students who enrolled in his courses.  His work, titled Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction (1982) was even  cited by then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Alabama’s ‘moment of silence’ law.

Today, Professor Michael Tolley continues Professor Cord’s tradition of informing his classroom teaching with the results of his research and scholarship.  The following are some excerpts from some of the writing projects dealing with American constitutional development, judicial process, legal globalization, and comparative judicial studies, that have been done by faculty in our department:

American Constitutional Development

“[W]e have found that one way to explain why the authors of Article III of the U.S. Constitution and Section 9 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 conferred on the newly created federal judiciary a jurisdiction, substantive law and procedure closely modeled on the colonial courts of vice admiralty is to take a skeptical view of the revolutionaries’ complaints against the admiralty. If the colonists, in the mounting struggle with the Crown after the Stamp Act controversy of 1765, had truly abhorred the vice admiralty courts, then the founders of the new republic certainly would have responded to the grievances and made an abrupt break with the past.”

From David R. Owen and Michael C. Tolley, Courts of Admiralty in Colonial America (Carolina Academic Press, 1995)

Judicial Process

“Judicial confirmation battles are not unusual. A historical view of the judicial appointments process suggests that intense, partisan struggles between the nominating President and rivals in the Senate have been fairly common.  What has been unusual in recent years is the use of new, norm-departing strategies in the struggle over judicial nominations at all levels of the federal court system.”

From Michael C. Tolley, “Legal Controversies Over Federal Judicial Selection in the United States” in Malleson and Russell, eds., Appointing Judges in an Age of Judicial Power: Critical Perspectives from Around the World  (University of Toronto Press, 2006)

Legal Globalization

“Arguably the forces of globalization have been at work for centuries, gradually shaping law and legal processes within sovereign nations….What is new today is the nature of the interconnections and extent of the interdependence among nation-states….How are the forces of globalization today, including the global spread of international human rights norms, the rice of universal criminal jurisdiction, and the pressure for the establishment of rule of law and good governance in the developing world, affecting domestic law, courts, and processes?”

From Donald Jackson, Michael Tolley, and Mary Volcansek, Globalizing Justice: Critical Perspectives on Transnational law and the Cross-Border Migration of Legal Norms (SUNY Press, 2010)

Comparative Judicial Studies

“The overreaching of the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress after 9/11 was not just an American problem….[P]arliaments in the United Kingdom and Australia enacted new antiterrorism measures with many of the same provisions allowing for control orders and preventive detention, electronic surveillance and invasions of privacy, and prohibitions of activities in connection with banned or listed terrorist organizations.”

Michael C. Tolley,” Australia’s Commonwealth Model and Terrorism,” in Volcansek and Stack, eds., Courts and Terrorism: Nine Nations Balance Rights and Security (Cambridge University Press, 2011)


The works of Professor Robert Gilbert on the American presidency, Denise Garcia on international law, and Eileen McDonagh on women’s rights and gender equality also figure prominently in the ‘Law and Legal Issues’ concentration.  Here are some of their fine works:

Presidential Studies

“In all, then, the Twenty-fifth Amendment probably does the best that can be expected in providing for situations of presidential inability. It does not, and cannot, resolve all problems, however. It does not guarantee that a specific instance of presidential disability will be handled smoothly or even that constitutional crises can always be averted. But it seems to be the best constitutional remedy at hand,…”

From Robert E. Gilbert, The Mortal Presidency:  Illness and Anguish in the White House (1998)

International Law

“This study is interested in a more recent development with the international norm-making process that came to be known as “soft” law, i.e., “emerging norms” that start to embed themselves in the practice of states…”

From Denise Garcia, Small Arms and Security: New Emerging International Norms (Routledge, 2006)

Gender Equality

“This book challenges how we think about organized sports, as participants, parents, and fans. Athletics are a visible part of American culture and it’s tempting to accept what is presented. That is why it’s critical to put sports into a legal, historical, and social context and to challenge the gut assumption that Title IX provided a fix and a level playing field for females in athletics.”

From Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano, Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports (Oxford University Press, 2007)

The field of public policy focuses on the various strategies and actions that governments adopt to achieve broadly accepted goals.

The public policy process often is conceptualized as a cycle of activities that include problem definition, agenda setting, enactment, implementation, and evaluation. Advanced study of public policy draws on perspectives and methods that are rooted in not only political science, but also law, history, economics, and other disciplines to allow for a comprehensive understanding of policy development as well as outcomes. Based equally on social scientific tools and an appreciation of politics, it equips the policy analyst with the ability to provide advice to public officials and advocates so that informed decisions can be made about public policy alternatives. While the focus of this field is on policy-making in the United States, a cross-national and international perspective is also included. Courses in this field cover the policy-making process, policy analysis, and substantive policy areas.

Professors Teaching in Public Policy


  • Daniel Aldrich, Professor of Political Science

  • Stephen Flynn, Professor of Political Science and Founding Co-Director, George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security

  • John PortzProfessor of Political Science and Chair of MA and PhD programs

  • David Rochefort, Professor of Political Science

  • Thomas VicinoProfessor of Political Science

The field of
 security studies addresses the causes of war and peace within a nation state or the international system. Security studies is closely tied to the study of government, since security is a key public good that governments seek to provide for their citizens. Security failures are often the result of government failures to maintain a stable domestic environment or to address international challenges. International organizations also play an important role in establishing security, through conflict resolution, arms control, and deployment of various resources. Students at Northeastern further benefit from an innovative perspective on security that forms the basis of the MS in Resilience Studies at Northeastern. This program seeks to strengthen societal and infrastructure resilience to natural and man-made disasters.

Professors Teaching in Security Studies

  • Max Abrahms, Assistant Professor of Political Science
  • Daniel Aldrich, Professor of Political Science
  • Mai’a Cross, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs
  • Denise Garcia, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs
  • Stephen Flynn, Professor of Political Science and Founding Co-Director, George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security
  • Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy

Courses in Security Studies

  • Core Seminar- POLS 7207 – Seminar in International Relations
  • Core course- POLS 7341 – Security and Resilience Policy
  • POLS 7344—Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power
  • POLS 7369—International Security
  • POLS 7343 to POLS 7349
  • Other courses under advisement from the Department or Faculty Advisor