Program Description and Aims

The Social Thought Program at Penn state is motivated by the assumption that narrow disciplinary training can be inadequate preparation for the multi-faceted and multi-lingual nature of intellectual and political life in the 21st century.  The Program is intended as a conduit and point of contact for those members of the university community in various disciplines with shared interests in social values, historical understanding, and interdisciplinary approaches to learning.  


Organizers of this Program intend especially to share the benefits of this cross-disciplinary cooperation with the graduate student community in a wide array of research fields.  To that end, the Program includes a PhD Minor in Social Thought and is engaged in coordingating public events, informal gatherings, reading groups, and other modes of connection for young scholars and their faculty colleagues.

The Social Thought Program was developed in response to the changing and changed landscape of intellectual life and social inquiry and critique. The Internet, a truly global economy, and the proliferation of mass media throughout the world have begun to alter the way people communicate with one another and interpret consequent actions. As part of this global social system, we need to develop communicative and interpretative abilities that will enhance understanding beyond our borders -- as well as among competing cultural groups within them.


The internationally known faculty which has already been assembled into the Social Thought Program, from no fewer than thirteen disciplines, are unified by the conviction that lively conversation among what are normally disparate fields of inquiry is the only reasonable way to forge ahead in comprehending impending social change. What unifies these faculty members is not only a commitment to working jointly in training talented graduate students, but also recognizing recent theoretical developments in social critique, interpretation, and theory have redefined and united the traditional disciplines such as philosophy, history, social and political analysis, education, gender studies, aesthetics, literary criticism, family and development studies, and foreign languages. This unprecedented amalgam is what lends the new Program its intellectual excitement and promise.


The Social Thought Program, begun in 1993, is like very few others in the country, and has already brought considerable national attention to Penn State. It has already attracted excellent students to campus who would otherwise have studied at other top-ranked institutions.