POL415: The Scientific Study of Civil Wars

Please find the Fall 2023 Syllabus here.


What conditions are sufficiently ’dire or inspiring’ to make someone take up arms and risk his (or her) life as part of a rebel group? By the end of this advanced undergraduate- level course, you will be able to answer this question just like the leading academic minds in the field of international relations. This class will provide you with extensive exposure to the quantitative study of civil wars around the world. We will start off by determining what constitutes a civil war and how this form of conflict is different from (or comprises) events such as international war, protests, riots, coups, genocide, and terrorism. We will then examine what factors that influence the onset, duration, termination, and recurrence of civil wars. Also, we will discuss some international dimensions of civil wars: the spread of conflicts across borders, refugee flows, and interventions.

While this course is focused on large-N cross-national quantitative studies of civil wars, we will frequently discuss real-world examples of civil wars, and you will be expected to write about a civil war that is of interest to you (more on this later in the syllabus).

Course Objectives and Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Compare and contrast the validity of general theories and key findings to specific cases of civil wars.
  • Learn to critique existing literature and posit own opinions and theories based in personal and course knowledge.
  • Present and discuss readings, opinions, and reactions to literature in small- and large- group settings.
  • Apply information from course readings to self-chosen civil war and responsibly make connections between general theories and the chosen civil war.
  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of others’ viewpoints and interpretations of course readings on civil wars.

Course Resources

Blog post on reading quantitative tables.

PDF on reading quantitative tables.
Alex Bruens
Alex Bruens
Ph.D. Candidate in International Relations