A MAPSS Tradition

All MAPSS students work closely with their preceptors and the senior MAPSS staff to select graduate courses from across the University.  It is exceedingly common for someone with sociological interests, for example, to take courses in the Sociology department, in the Harris School of Public Policy, in Political Science, in the School of Social Service Administration, and in Comparative Human Development.

While all UChicago departments embrace an interdisciplinary ethos, the faculty of three graduate programs have put that interdisciplinary commitment at the core of their academic mission: the Committee on Social Thought (CST), Comparative Human Development (CHD), and the Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science (CHSS).

The Committee on Social Thought was founded in 1941 by the historian John U. Nef, the economist Frank Knight, the anthropologist Robert Redfield, and Robert M. Hutchins, then President of the University. Their guiding premise has been that a wide and deep familiarity with ancient and modern texts - in literature, philosophy, history, religion, art, politics, and society - will allow scholars to grapple with the fundamental issues, and the permanent questions, that underlie all serious inquiry.

The Department of Comparative Human Development brings together anthropologists, biologists, linguists, psychologists, and sociologists to explore how biology and culture - gender, race, class, age, sexuality, and dis/ability - combine to shape social interactions and the processes of social change. Current areas of comparative research include the social experience of mental illness, comparative education, multicultural citizenship, and emergent conceptions of adulthood.

The Committee on the Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science draws on work in history, philosophy, and the social relations of science, with areas of research that include the history of biology, psychology, medicine, and psychiatry; the history of statistics and probability; the sociology and anthropology of science; and the history of communication and the book.

A number of recent MAPSS graduates have gone on for the PhD in those departments.

New Interdisciplinary Concentrations

MAPSS has developed new partnerships with the following interdisciplinary programs. All admitted students are eligible to pursue concentrations – and in some cases a Certificate – with these faculty:

Education and Society

MAPSS students can now earn a Certificate in the University’s Committee on Education.

The curriculum allows students to specialize in one of three areas. “Individual Development and Learning” explores how students learn, which pedagogies are most effective, and how schools are best organized. “Schooling and Society” examines how schools are shaped by cultural, familial, and neighborhood contexts, what role schools play in their wider communities, and what impact schools have on social inequality. “Educational Policy and Evaluation” investigates what principles of research design, statistical analysis, and program evaluation are most effective for assessing educational interventions, and what the best evidence implies for core policies like how to improve reading instruction, whether charter schools are more effective than public schools, or how to attract and retain talented teachers in under-resourced institutions. 

Each of these topical areas requires an interdisciplinary lens. For example, psychologists are interested in the cognitive and affective dimensions of learning, economists study the development of human capital, and sociologists explore the role of schooling in processes of social stratification.

Consequently, a psychologist might see how children become better learners; an economist might think about how incentives shape teacher and student effort; and a sociologist would see how a school’s organization shapes social networks and opportunities.

Students earning the Education and Society Certificate complete courses that combine these interdisciplinary perspectives in a coherent program of study. In addition, students can seek research placements in one of several education-related laboratories, research projects, or organizations at the University, including the Urban Education Institute; the UChicago Consortium on School Research; UChicago STEM Education; the UChicago Science of Learning Center; the Urban Labs; the TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health; educational programs within the Office of Civic Engagement; or any number of ongoing faculty-led projects.

Computational Social Science

MAPSS students can earn a Certificate in Computational Social Science that will appear on their transcript. To do so, they must complete the Computational Math Camp in September, a three-course core (Perspectives on Computational Analysis, Perspectives on Computational Modeling, Perspectives on Computational Research), and one additional course in computer programming (such as MACS 30500, Computing for the Social Sciences).

Students are also expected to attend the Computational Social Science Workshop on an occasional basis.

A minimum average grade of B will be needed for the Certificate to be awarded, following a petition submitted to our Managing Director.

Gender and Sexuality Studies

MAPSS students are eligible to work with affiliated faculty in The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

The Center coordinates a number of courses and research activities, examining the study of gender and/or sexuality as a historical practice; as scientific concepts and sites of representation; in social movements such as feminism and gay and lesbian liberation; within feminist and queer theory; as family structures; in the gendering of labor force participation; as representations of women in literature and the visual arts; in the intersections of race and gender; in transnational movements; and as they impact women’s and men’s participation in politics, among other domains.

The Graduate Certificate in Gender and Sexuality Studies requires a graduate-level foundation course in gender and sexuality (e.g. Advanced Theories of Sex/Gender); at least three additional courses in gender and sexuality studies (either cross-listed with GNSE or approved by the Center); a major research paper with a substantial gender/sexuality component (either from class or the MA thesis); and student participation in the Gender and Sexualities Studies Workshop.

Geographic Information Science

MAPSS students can work with affiliated faculty in the Committee on Geographical Sciences, developing new skills in the analytic methods of geographic inquiry.

A five-course curriculum provides a coherent introduction to spatial thinking, geospatial analysis, geo-computation, and geo-visualization techniques, with a focus on policy-relevant research across the social sciences.

The concentration in Geographic Information Science includes three foundational courses in spatial analysis and spatial data science (Introduction to Spatial Data Science, Geographic Information Science I and Geographic Information Science II) and an independent reading course oriented to MA thesis research (Readings in Spatial Analysis). The fifth course is selected from three options: a course that develops the computational aspects of geographic information science (Geographic Information Science III); more advanced statistical treatment (Spatial Regression Analysis); or a practicum to refine the MA thesis (GIScience Practicum).

Students are encouraged to participate in the Center for Spatial Data Science, which organizes a weekly study group that draws faculty, post-doctoral lecturers, and students from across the University of Chicago.

Finally, students write their MA theses with Luc Anselin, Kevin Credit, or Marynia Kolak, applying spatial analysis and geographic information science to a particular question in the social sciences.

Sample Courses

CHSS / 32000. An Introduction to Science Studies. This course provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of science, medicine, and technology. During the twentieth century, sociologists, historians, philosophers, and anthropologists raised original, interesting, and consequential questions about the sciences. Often their work drew on and responded to each other, and, taken together, their various approaches came to constitute a field, “science studies.” The course furnishes an initial guide to this field. Students will not only encounter some of its principal concepts, approaches, and findings, but will also get a chance to apply science-studies perspectives themselves by performing a fieldwork project. Among the topics we may examine are: the sociology of scientific knowledge and its applications; actor-network theories of science; constructivism and the history of science; and efforts to apply science-studies approaches beyond the sciences themselves.

SCTH 50201. New Narratives of Secularization and Sacralization. While secularization theory was for a long time dominant in the sociology of religion and in the wider discourse about religion in the public sphere, the last years have brought not only serious critiques of that paradigm, but also interesting alternatives. Perhaps the most influential and wide-ranging of these is Charles Taylor’s magisterial book “A Secular Age”. A considerable amount of time in this class will be devoted to a close reading of this work, but we will also study texts by David Martin, a much less known, but very important British sociologist of religion and pioneer of the revival of a historical and comparative sociology of religion (see now the “David Martin Reader”), by José Casanova (“Public Religions in the Modern World”), and by myself (“Faith as an Option”, Stanford UP 2014)

CHDV 32100. Culture, Power, Subjectivity. This course takes up the classic, yet endlessly fascinating subject of the relationship of historically produced cultural structures and their relationship to individual and collective forms of subjectivity. Since the topic is huge, we will address it by reading classic texts in depth, analyzing them for the diverse ways in which classic social thinkers like Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Althuser, Bourdieu and Foucault have thought about the relationship between individuals and collectivities. Key questions we will address include the ways in social and economic formations structure the possibilities for individual human action, the relationship between religious formations and historical transformations, the role of class in the inculcation of taste and desire, and the ways in which, throughout the 19th century, new power/knowledge formations have created new ways through with subject formation takes place.

SCTH 39126. Empire and Enlightenment. The European Enlightenment was a formative period in the development of modern historiography. It was also an age in which the expansionist impulse of European monarchies came under intense philosophical scrutiny on moral, religious, cultural, and economic grounds. We chart a course through these debates by focusing in the first instance on histories of Rome by William Robertson and Edward Gibbon, as well as writing on law and historical method by Giambattista Vico.

CHDV 33301. Culture, Mental Health and Psychiatry. While mental illness has recently been framed in largely neurobiological terms as “brain disease,” there has also been an increasing awareness of the contingency and complexity of psychiatric disorders. In this course, we will draw upon readings from medical and psychological anthropology, cultural psychiatry, and science studies to examine this paradox and to examine mental health and illness as a set of subjective experiences, social processes and objects of knowledge and intervention. Questions explored include: Does mental illness vary across social and cultural settings? How are experiences of people suffering from mental illness shaped by psychiatry’s knowledge of their afflictions?

SCTH 40701. Many Ramayanas. A close reading of the great Hindu Epic, the story of Rama’s recovery of his wife, Sita, from the demon Ravana on the island of Lanka, with special attention to changes in the telling of the story throughout Indian history, up to its present use as a political weapon against Muslims and a rallying point for Hindu fundamentalists. Readings in Paula Richman, Many Ramayanas and Questioning Ramayanas; in translations of the Ramayanas of Valmiki, Kampan, Tulsi, and Michael Dutta, as well as the Ramajataka; Rama the Steadfast, trans. Brockington; the Yogavasistha-Maharamayana; and contemporary comic books and films.


History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Science Workshop 
In conjunction with the Fishbein Center, CHSS conducts a workshop in the history and philosophy of science, known as HPSS.

The Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop
The Contemporary European Philosophy Workshop seeks to foster a space of ongoing and interdisciplinary dialogue among students and faculty from across the humanities and social sciences working with and within Continental philosophical traditions. The Workshop provides a space to discuss European philosophy in its historical and contemporary development, its relationship to other philosophical traditions, and the central theoretical role it has come to play in disciplines across the humanities and social sciences. Possible figures to be discussed include: Nietzsche,Kierkegaard, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Lacan, Kristeva, and Fanon, amongst others. We also welcome work on ancient, early modern, and modern figures when approached via the Continental tradition.

Political Theory Workshop
The Political Theory Workshop is a forum for the presentation of new research in all varieties of political theory and political philosophy, including work in the history of political thought; contributions to normative political theory; theoretical engagements with problems in contemporary politics and public policy; and theoretical reflection on fundamental political concepts or phenomena. The Workshop subscribes to no particular methodology or political ideology, and welcomes participants from all departments and disciplines.

Social Theory Workshop
This workshop explores issues in social theory across a variety of disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. The emphasis is less on developing social theory than on exploring in a sustained fashion the social theoretical implications of the participants’ work. Themes to be addressed are likely to include the relationship between social and cultural transformations; questions of the public sphere, civil society, and democracy; the relations between modernist and postmodernist forms of social theory; and conceptual issues posed by globalization.

Medicine and Its Objects
Medicine and Its Objects is a new interdisciplinary workshop exploring medicine and the objects that become salient within its extended social reach. Our goal is to engage therapeutic, bodily, and ontological matters across disciplines bringing the humanities, social sciences, and life sciences together in new dialogues.

Seminar on Important Things
Every other Friday, CHSS students meet for an informal seminar. Recent topics have included the works of Pierre Duhem, Francis Bacon, Michel Foucault, and have ranged over areas concerning the social construction of science and the interactions of science, literature, and art.

Centers and Institutes


Related Departments of Interest to MAPSS Students

Anthropology, Cinema and Media Studies, Divinity School, English, History, PhilosophyPolitical Science