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Susan P. Liebell Ph.D

Associate Professor
Office: Barbelin Hall, Room 208
Phone: 610.660.1919
Fax: 610.660.1284

Curriculum Vitae (CV)


  • M.A. and Ph.D., The University of Chicago
  • B.A., Queens College of the City University of New York

Professional Experience

Dr. Susan P. Liebell’s research and courses connect political theory, public law and current political issues. She maintains that studying debates about rights, justice, or representation in the 17th and 18th century help us better understand current debates concerning environmental degradation, gun rights, and toleration in the 21st century. Liebell teaches courses in political theory, public law, ideology and film, and environmental politics.  She serves as the pre-law advisor and directs the Philadelphia Area Internship Program and the Justice and Ethics in the Law minor.

Her 2014 book, Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship examines the controversy over creationism and Intelligent Design in Dover, Pennsylvania. Insisting that science is a key component of modern democratic government, she argues that we should not exclude creationism or Intelligent Design as “religion.”  Instead, we should explicitly justify science education generally and the teaching of evolution specifically as crucial to three aspects of the democratic person: political citizenship, economic fitness, and moral choice. Her new work addresses gun rights and gun violence arguing that “stand your ground” laws are at odds with basic democratic rules about self-defense, equality, and liberal rights.  She has presented this new work at Columbia University, Rutgers University, and the Association for Political Theory annual conference.

Dr. Liebell enjoys hiking, biking on the D&R Canal, reading novels, and all things political.  She will buy you lunch if you read All the King’s Men, Kiss of the Spider Woman, or The Tin Drum.  Her senior seminar classes are all invited to dinner at her home.

Courses Taught

POL 150FY Law, Student Liberties, and the Supreme Court (First Year Seminar) (syllabus) This course analyzes the evolving opinions and doctrines of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the civil liberties of students. Can students wear armbands to protest a war? Wear their hair long? Hang a sign that reads BONG HiTS 4 JESUS? Refuse to salute the flag? This class analyzes classic cases of discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation with an emphasis on the rights of students. Students learn to read and brief cases and the course ends with a moot court. Students act as the justices and attorneys as they argue two cases that are currently before the Supreme Court. The course uses class discussions, briefs, and the moot courts to practice research, writing, and argument skills as well as to deepen students’ understanding of the law.

POL 117 Introduction to Political Thought (syllabus) When is it justified to overthrow a tyrant? Do men and women have different virtues? Are markets just? Political theorists ask questions about justice, equality, law, property, community, and duty. This course examines questions that affect today’s political world by examining the foundations of political thought – Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Adam Smith, Madison, Rousseau, Marx – as well as contemporary theorists such as Foucault, and feminist Wendy Brown.

POL 201 Sophomore Seminar: Law and Social Change Can courts effectively generate social change? This seminar uses cases and case studies to examine the relationship between law and society. Case studies include: school integration, abortion, pay equity, death penalty, and single-sex unions. As a sophomore research seminar, this course emphasizes class discussion and an extensive research project that teaches students to use legal databases and primary and secondary sources. All students also regularly practice public speaking and presentation. This course is for POL majors only (with special exceptions for minors), and majors typically take this writing-centered course (or its sibling – POL 231) during their spring sophomore semester, after completing at least two POL introductory courses, at least one of which must be POL 111. Satisfies the Writing Intensive overlay requirement.

POL 302 Machiavelli v. the World (syllabus) Machiavelli challenged political theorists to look at politics “as it is” rather than “as it ought to be.” Rulers needed virtue – literally “manliness” – rather than Christian virtue or morality. This course investigates how Machiavelli’s ideas challenged (and threatened!) those of the Reformation and the Jesuits emphasizing how his ideas affected democratic and liberal theorists as they sought to reinvent the world. The course examines the political thought of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau Wollstonecraft, Mill, Marx, and Rawls – as well as 20th and 21st century writers who continue to debate the nature of politics, gender, and political leadership. It includes a simulation of Rousseau’s General Will and Rawls’s Original position. Satisfies the Writing Intensive overlay requirement.

POL 303 American Political Thought (syllabus)

Why did Ben Franklin say that the Swedes were “blackening” the colonies? Why did Lincoln change his mind about slavery? The course examines classic texts (for example, the American Revolution, the constitutional convention, Lincoln-Douglas debates) by linking them to other important intellectual and political movements in American thought (for example, white —women’s suffrage, the 20th century civil rights movements). The course examines the changing political vocabulary in American politics – and the expansion of rights to men, laborers, women, racial minorities, and LGBT people.

POL 305 Film, Politics & Ideology (syllabus) How do ideologies -- bodies of thought -- affect individuals, social movements, nations, institutions, and groups? This course examines ideologies – fascism, communism, racism, capitalism, etc. -- through the study of primary texts and scholarly articles. We use films from Europe, Asia, Latin America, Russia, and the United States to place each ideology in historical, political, and/or economic context. Students are expected to master the complexities of the ideologies in historical context as well as evaluate ideologies that have shaped national and international politics in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This course fulfills the Ethics Overlay of the GEP and we focus on responsibility for the actions of a leader (are the German people responsible for Hitler’s atrocities?), torture (is it ever ethical to torture someone for information?), and capital punishment (are there conditions when it is acceptable for the state to end a life?). This is a Political Science and an International Relations course.

POL 311 Constitutional Law: Civil Rights & Liberties (syllabus) The course and discussions emphasizes lines of cases with particular relevance to today's political controversies: the civil liberties of the post-September 11th detainees, the use of secret courts, same-sex marriage, and abortion. The course encourages students to apply their historical understanding of court doctrine to current controversies in the law in their papers, legal briefs, and class comments. Satisfies the Writing Intensive overlay requirement.

POL 328 Environmental Politics in America (syllabus) In order to understand today’s controversies over fracking and global warming, this course examines the rise of environmentalism in America, moving from the progressive conservationism of Teddy Roosevelt through the environmentalism of Earth Day and the 1970’s to the present era. The course uses recent works in political science to establish the actors in environmental decision-making and implementation as we consider federalism and state environmental policy, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, markets and free trade, the Presidency, Congress, the Bureaucracy, and the Courts. The focus of all student work is current – unresolved – policy problems at the local, state, and national levels. One of the course highlights is a policy simulation. Satisfies the Writing Intensive overlay requirement.

POL 491 Philadelphia-Area Internships Work for the District Attorney of Philadelphia? CBS? A judge? This course provides access to supervised internships in the Philadelphia area in the offices of elected or appointed government officials, public interest organizations, party organizations, and many other groups involved with politics and policy. With the help of the professor, you learn how to write a resume, cover letter, and perform a job search as well as a book review and final paper. Available both Fall and Spring. The course is open to ALL majors and satisfies the GEP Writing Intensive Overlay.

POL 407 Seminar on Theories of Justice in the 21st Century (syllabus) What is justice? Should people “own” their talents and use them – even if that ends in vast inequality? Must equality trump liberty? Must there be justice in public – or in the family as well? This intimate and contentious seminar examines the major theories of justice beginning with John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. In order to consider alternative theories of justice and criticisms of Rawls, we will read classic critical commentaries in the form of articles and book chapters from Michael Sandel, Susan Okin, Robert Nozick, Martha Nussbaum, and Amartya Sen. Students develop a more sophisticated understanding of political justice through the weekly writing of critical, interpretive, and comparative essays. Students obtain a sophisticated vocabulary of political ideology (liberalism, communitarianism, conservatism, feminism, legalism, utilitarianism, and post- modernism) as well as an understanding of different types of justice (e.g., distributive v. restorative). Students write original research papers and formally present their research to the class. Prerequisite: POL 117 or permission of instructor. Satisfies the Writing-Intensive overlay requirement.


Select Publications

Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship, Routledge Press, July 2013.

“Rethinking Dover : Religion, Science, and the Values of Democratic Citizenship.” Politics & Religion, August 2012, Vol. 5; No. 3.

“The Text and Context of “Enough and as Good”: John Locke as the Foundation of an Environmental Liberalism.” Polity, April 2011; Vol. 43; No. 2.

“Lockean Switching: Imagination and the Production of Principles of Toleration.” Perspectives on Politics, December 2009; Vol. 7; No. 4, 823-836.

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