Santa Clara University

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Comparative Politics: Developing Responsible Global Citizens

Eric O. Hanson’s comparative politics class does more than just expose students to the politics of China, India, Mexico, and El Salvador. By using dynamic teaching methods as well as community-based learning placements through our Arrupe Partnerships Program, he gives his class a sense of what life is like in the countries they study so they can view international politics through the lens of the indigenous people, helping students become more responsible global citizens.

Inside the classroom, Hanson, the Patrick A. Donohoe, S.J. Professor, uses historical videos and newsreel footage to capture the flavor of the times. “Seeing the Tiananmen Square protests in the newsreel footage is a lot more powerful than me trying to explain it,” he says. He makes his lectures come alive by emphasizing the times in the countries’ political histories when people came to the United States, drawing a connection between the home countries and the immigrants who live here now. He even comes to class dressed as Ye Jianying when the class role-plays and “takes” the city of Canton in 1948.

Professor Eric Hanson at chalkboard
Eric Hanson has been on the faculty at Santa Clara University for more than 30 years and has won numerous awards for teaching excellence. His most recent book is Religion and Politics in the International System Today. He has degrees in philosophy from Gonzaga University and a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford University.

But he enables the material to come alive outside the classroom as well by requiring students to spend two hours each week interacting with someone from a non-American tradition, such as a Confucian culture, a South Asian culture, or a Latino culture, or someone in an ESL program, immigrant service center, or other community placement arranged through the Arrupe Partnerships. While students may be helping people with their English or their job searches, for example, the immigrants are helping the students with their comparative politics class by sharing what life is like in their native lands.

That positive interaction with people from the regions studied in class helps the students realize that not everyone sees the world from an American perspective. “You just make mistake after mistake after mistake if you interpret other people and other cultures in terms of your own experiences instead of theirs,” Hanson says. “You can’t be an effective global citizen if you don’t understand that. Once you do, it’s like going from black-and-white to color.”