New Theory of Patriotism Caps Houser's Doctoral Studies

October 15, 2009

Patriotism has its critics within the academy, but doctoral candidate Sarah Houser's dissertation makes the case that loyalty to one's country doesn't have to conflict with moral reasoning. Her work puts forth another view of patriotism: a type of friendship between patriot and nation. 

"As a friend, the patriot is not required to blindly submit to the will of his or her political community," says Houser, who was awarded two fellowships from the Earhart Foundation in support of her project. "Rather, it is part of the essential role of a friend to criticize his or her friends when they do wrong and to work for their improvement."

In her dissertation, which was advised by Michael Zuckert, Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science, Houser also counters both a prominent critique of patriotism and a contemporary version of patriotism that is rooted in an impersonal, liberal morality.

And now that she's completed her doctoral studies and is set to receive her Ph.D. in January, she is looking to revise and build upon her theory.

"I also plan to expand my research into more practical policy areas," Houser says. "Specifically, I want to explore how the understanding of patriotism as friendship may affect: (1) the type of historical narratives which we present to our children through history and civics classes, (2) the relationship between patriotism and the constitutional right to freedom of speech, and (3) the way in which we structure our immigration policies and the requirements for citizenship."

Beyond her work on patriotism, Houser has an abiding interest in feminism and feminist political theory, one she pursued through a research assistantship with Eileen Hunt Botting, Thomas J. and Robert T. Rolfs Associate Professor of Political Science. The two published a paper together that appeared in the American Political Science Review in 2006 and focused on Hannah Mather Crocker, granddaughter of the famous Puritan minister Cotton Mather and author of the first book-length philosophical treatise on women's rights in America.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society subsequently asked Botting and Houser to transcribe and edit Crocker's unpublished Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. They expect to complete the project, for which Houser earned a research fellowship from the Notre Dame Gender Studies Program, in 2010.

In addition to her strength as a scholar, Houser's skill as a teacher has been recognized during her tenure at Notre Dame, with the Department of Political Science selecting her as a winner of a Kaneb Outstanding Graduate TA Award in 2004. Given annually, the Kaneb awards honor teaching assistants who demonstrate excellence in classroom, laboratory, or other instructional capacities.

"I find that the most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing students engaging in energetic and passionate debate about their political ideas," Houser says. "I try to encourage my students not just to express their opinions but to hold their opinions up to examination by their peers and to learn how to defend and improve their ideas through reasoned argument."