The Legal Studies Program offers an undergraduate major in the College of Letters & Science. The program mission is to provide a liberal education across traditional disciplines, focusing on the theory and operation of law and legal institutions. Courses in the legal studies major expose students to the many facets of law as a social phenomenon—its evolution, function, motivating ideas and effects. The major is not intended as preparation for law school because the emphasis is on exploring broadly defined questions about law from a variety of perspectives, rather than on training for the profession. The legal studies major is, however, suitable for pre-law students.
The curriculum is designed around five themes, each of which is associated with a group of courses, and each of which incorporates comparative and historical approaches.
Theme Group 1: Legal Institutions
Institutions are at the core of social life. They govern our interactions, distribute power and resources, and influence how we make sense of the world. Courses in this theme group focus on those institutions involved in the creation and application of law. They explore such questions as how legal institutions evolve; how legal institutions help determine the shape of law—in doctrine and in action—and how and whether, in turn, legal institutions can be shaped to create different social outcomes. Institutions are central to the studies of society and politics throughout the disciplines, and courses in the group include perspectives from history, anthropology, sociology, political science, and political theory.
Theme Group 2: Processes of Legal Order and Disorder
This theme examines the dynamics of order at the individual and societal level. In the course of this examination, students are made aware of the political and social biases that can underlie definitions of "order." This theme should also allow students to address how social and political biases relate to divisions of class, race and gender, and how the mechanisms of conflict resolution and order maintenance can be used to reinforce or challenge existing power structures.
Theme Group 3: Law and Social Forces
This theme group explores the intersection between law, social structures and social movements. Courses in this group address social inequality, generally in the U.S. context, grounded in ethno-racial, gender, and sexuality-based difference. At critical points, the struggle for equality has taken pointedly legal form, whether in the shape of campaigns for legislative change or recognition, or through the litigation of particular cases. Legal categories have informed social identities. Equally, changing social identities have pushed back on legal categories. Courses integrate broad social dynamics with the rise of organized social movements that use law as an arena in which to reassess social life and values.
Theme Group 4: Law and Culture
This theme group introduces students to legal thought, institutions, and practices beyond mainstream or contemporary legal systems, specifically modern Euro-American legal cultures. Courses in this theme group present either culturally based challenges to mainstream modern legal systems or legal systems that are culturally or historically distinct from them. The comparative study of distinct legal traditions and movements forces us to reexamine the cultural presuppositions embedded in modern legal systems, revealing both good reasons for defending mainstream Euro-American laws and arguments and models for changing or questioning prevailing systems. Courses examine historical developments in or affecting law, non-Western legal thought or traditions, and the effect of cultural institutions such as religion, literature, or media on law.
Theme Group 5: Law and Theory
Many theoretical and philosophical questions are articulated as propositions about law: its nature, sources, contents, and relations to other aspects of social life. While only some philosophers or social, political or legal theorists work specifically in the area of "legal theory," almost literally all work in any of these areas contributes to our understanding of the sources and nature of law, legal institutions and legal practices, and for many if not most theorists explicit discussions of law are central elements of their work. Courses in this theme group focus on the ways in which "law" is treated as a working concept or as a subject of study in theoretical works, and conversely on how understandings drawn from theoretical writings inform our own understanding of law in all its dimensions.