The course introduces students to the comparative study of politics and societies worldwide. While it is typical for introductory courses in comparative politics to follow a descriptive, country-by-country approach—focusing on the differences and similarities between the legal/constitutional structures found in different societies—this course takes a more thematic approach, exploring some of the major explanatory questions that form the subject of real-world, comparative research in the social sciences. What accounts for the failure of state- and/or nation-building processes? Why are some countries democratic, while others are still ruled by despotic, authoritarian regimes? How do political institutions develop over time? How do political institutions affect a country’s political life, its stability, and its prosperity? Can certain desirable outcomes be “engineered” through the design of the right institutions? What explains the intensity of the inter-group conflicts that define a country’s politics? How can the rivalry between ethnic and other identity-based groups be kept from spiraling into violence? And how does a country’s politics affect its levels of economic development? These questions—and others like them—will be tackled as part of this course’s wide-ranging introduction to the study of comparative politics and societies.