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February 26, 2024

SNF Agora Institute offers new Civic Life minor and Moral and Political Economy major

By NICK DAUM | October 9, 2023


The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute is introducing two new programs of study to Hopkins through the Center for Economy and Society (CES): a minor in Civic Life and a major in Moral and Political Economy (MPE). 

While the minor in Civic Life has become available to all Hopkins students starting during this fall of 2023, the MPE major will only be offered to the sophomore cohort of next year, with its class size capped at approximately 20 students.

The Civic Life minor focuses on educating students on political institutions and international studies, taking an interdisciplinary approach to social change. It will incorporate “critical reflection, ethical thinking, empirical understanding, historical perspectives and action for social change.”

The website also states that the area of civic studies will have a specific focus on the examination of skills that are foundational to liberal democracies and pluralistic societies, as well as the historical and contemporary issues that nations have faced to realize these principles. 

Kara Piccirilli, the senior academic program coordinator at the SNF Agora Institute, shared the the intent of the minor in an email to The News-Letter

“The minor arose from a number of university-wide, agenda-setting forces, including President [Ronald J.] Daniels’ What Universities Owe Democracy (2021) and the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education,” she wrote. “Universities like [...] Hopkins have an important role to play in developing this capacity for civic life and collective action that is essential to democracy.”

Piccirilli also noted the vibrant community of peers, professors and other faculty that students will interact with at the SNF Agora Institute. In particular, the minor will require a Capstone project conducted through a Civic Life Seminar, which will bring students closer to the faculty and the work within the Hopkins and greater Baltimore community. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, freshman Luca Geiger, an International Studies and Economics major, expressed his interest in the focus areas of the minor, especially in relation to his current areas of study. 

“I first heard about it in my [first year seminar] class because we were talking about democratic erosion, and specifically how that affects the US,” he said. “It would be something I definitely consider [as fitting] with international studies. It also fits well with political science. It's one of the things that just makes sense to have.”

In addition to the Capstone project, the minor will include a second Civic Life Seminar, three elective courses and a course titled Introduction to Civic Life for a total of 17 credits. Elective choices include courses in the fields of history, sociology, political science and environmental science. 

In an interview with The News-Letter, the Director of Undergraduate Studies at SNF Agora, Bryce Corrigan, emphasized the diversity of course offerings within the minor. He stated that the curricular, conventional experiences of the main courses will be supplemented by the experiential education with the minor’s seminar and capstone project. He also noted the global education opportunities of the major.

“We have experts in conflicts, foreign conflicts [and] violence, and we have experts in polarization in the [U.S.],” Corrigan said. “But the second piece is the global part because we emphasize that we think that skills and knowledge and experiences will help students to flourish as members of holistic societies.”

The SNF Agora Institute endorsed the Civic Life minor for all students, regardless of their primary area of undergraduate study.

Freshman Patrick Ting, an electrical engineering major, voiced his interest in the minor during an interview with The News-Letter.

“[I am thinking] of potentially picking up a minor because I do plan on going into biotechnology, so I think anything related to economics or civic studies will be useful,” he said.

The second academic offering through the CES is the Moral and Political Economy major. Similar to the Civic Life minor, this program will have a multidisciplinary focus that combines economic courses with political economy and governance. 

Within the major, students will be able to choose among a variety of specific focus tracks, in which they will take six courses. In an email to The News-Letter, Assistant Director for the CES Glory Liu communicated some of the options that will be available to students. 

“Students will be able to choose from a range of ‘predetermined’ focused tracks, but they’ll also have the option to design their own,” she wrote. “Students might be able to choose tracks such as ‘The Ethics and Economics of Artificial Intelligence,’ ‘Gender and Economic Development,’ ‘The Moral Economy of Climate Change’ or ‘Race and Economic Inequality.’”

However, the administration stated that these areas of study are not settled upon yet. A final list of focus tracks will be voted on by the Faculty Advisory Board later this year. 

The year-long course, Social Theories of the Economy, will be a required class for students in the MPE major. According to Liu, the course is meant to provide students with a deep dive into both historical and more contemporary texts that raise fundamental questions of social theory and political economy, such as what it means to live in a society organized around market exchange.

Through the course, students will also be expected to read several classical economics texts such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Karl Marx’s Capital and works by 20th and 21st century writers including Maynard Keynes and Michel Foucault. 

In addition to micro- and macro-economics, students of the major will be required to take a reading seminar. Further, after taking a research lab in their junior year, students will develop an article-length research project on a topic of interest relevant to their focus track. This is intended to provide students with ample experience and the background needed to write the senior thesis in their final year at Hopkins, the last requirement of the major.

In an email to The News-Letter, Associate Professor of History Angus Burgin elaborated on how these experiences will supplement students’ education in the socio-economic field.

“Our goal is for the thesis to be an integrative experience for students — showing them how the knowledge they’ve gained from a wide variety of courses can converge to help answer a problem of pressing concern,” he wrote.

Freshman Rose Majeed, a prospective Economics major, found the major opportunity compelling. She expressed an interest in the possibility of switching majors. 

“I'm very interested in the [Moral and] Political Economy major because that'd be a great replacement,” she said. “I love economics by itself, but [if] I could replace economics [with this major], and then also do [Applied Mathematics and Statistics] it would hit all the bases. That would be a perfect fit for my interests.”

Although the major will only be available to next year’s sophomore cohort, the CES hopes to increase the capacity for the major over the next few years. Burgin wrote that he hopes to expand the major to around 40 students, roughly doubling its current expected capacity.

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