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Stanford Civics Initiative

Stanford exterior, tower and arch

The Stanford Civics Initiative (SCI), home-based in Stanford’s Department of Political Science, is the project of a group of Stanford faculty from the Departments of Political Science, Classics, Philosophy, and Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, working together with the staff of the Zephyr Institute. We are united by our belief that U.S. universities have a responsibility to offer students an education that will promote their flourishing as human beings, their judgment as moral agents, and their participation in society as democratic citizens. A healthy democracy requires that citizens and leaders be conversant with the great ideas of the past and present, ideas that produced and sustain their system of government. Citizens living in a pluralistic society must learn to engage one another in rational discourse. They must find ways to meet new challenges and to promote the common good, together.

The Initiative aims to provide students with a series of superbly taught courses relevant to the ideas and practices of democratic citizenship. The SCI is intended to further Stanford’s mission, as laid out in the University’s  Founding Grant, to prepare students for virtuous and effective citizenship by “teaching the blessings of liberty, regulated by law, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”

The university has a vitally important role to play in the education of citizens. That role was recognized not only in Stanford’s Founding Grant, but also in Stanford’s first required survey course: “The Problems of Citizenship," introduced in 1923. Now, a century later, the need for addressing problems of citizenship is more pressing than ever. The Initiative serves the needs of all Stanford students who are eager to pursue a curriculum that would enable them to explore in-depth issues of the common good and human flourishing, who seek to debate important ethical and moral issues, and who want a classroom setting that encourages both frankness and civility as they delve into big ideas. We believe that students’ own ethical judgment is improved and their deepest commitments are strengthened when they have the chance to make and to respond to reasoned arguments from all sides of morally challenging issues.