The Program, Human Development and Social Relations | Earlham College

The Program

Human Development and Social Relations (HDSR) is an interdisciplinary major that draws on the liberal arts to prepare students for engaging with social issues and for effecting personal and social change. Combining the approaches of psychology, sociology, anthropology and philosophy, students learn how to work with individuals and groups within larger organizational settings and to appreciate diverse perspectives and cultures. The program emphasizes practical experience and theoretical perspectives, as well as reflection on the role of values and ethics in professional life.

The Program's foundation lies in a firm understanding of both individual persons and contemporary social systems, an understanding that cannot be attained through the study of a single discipline. By examining social issues and problems in all their complexity, students integrate various disciplines to imagine and work toward a more just world.

Many HDSR courses involve experiential learning within both the classroom and the larger community. In addition, students complete a field study consisting of 200 hours of experience in organizations such as schools, clinics, camps, businesses, government, and other public and private organizations. These field studies provide opportunities to integrate theory gained in the classroom with experience gained in the field setting. Students spend an additional semester reflecting on their experiences and writing a substantial paper that analyzes their field studies using various theoretical tools learned in their core classes.

HDSR is a broadly focused major that supports students' interests in a variety of different educational and career paths.  HDSR graduates have found work in such fields as law, counseling, public administration, medicine, nonprofit management, social work, education and the ministry. Whatever they do, HDSR graduates bring to their work a broad understanding of complex social issues, a creative orientation toward solving problems, a respect for persons, and a commitment to social justice.

A majority of HDSR graduates attend graduate or professional schools, usually matriculating in their first choice program, and believe that their HDSR major made graduate work easier and more successful. According to HEDS data, Earlham is ranked 46th (in the 96th percentile) among 1,469 institutions of higher learning in the U.S. in the percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D.s in the human service professions.

The Major

Students majoring in HDSR complete the following core courses:

  • HDSR 239 Persons and Systems
  • HDSR 359 Self, Society and Social Thought
  • HDSR 363 Field Study
  • HDSR 364 Field Study Seminar
  • HDSR 479 Ethics and Social Justice
  • HDSR 488 Senior Capstone Experience

Disciplinary Courses

  • In Psychology:
    PSYC 115 Introduction to Psychological Perspectives
  • In Sociology/Anthropology:
    SOAN 118 Institutions and Inequality OR
    SOAN 115 Culture and Conflict
  • Three upper-level courses (300 or above):
    Students must select one upper-level course in PSYC and one in SOAN.
    The third course may be in PSYC or SOAN.

* Key

Courses that fulfill
General Education Requirements:

  • (A-AP) = Arts - Applied
  • (A-TH) = Arts - Theoretical/Historical
  • (A-AR) = Analytical - Abstract Reasoning
  • (A-QR) = Analytical - Quantitative
  • (D-D) = Diversity - Domestic
  • (D-I) = Diversity - International
  • (D-L) = Diversity - Language
  • (ES) = Earlham Seminar
  • (IE) = Immersive Experience
  • (RCH) = Research
  • (SI) = Scientific Inquiry
  • (W) = Wellness
  • (WI) = Writing Intensive
  • (AY) = Offered in Alternative Year

Designed for first-year students but open to those considering a major in HDSR. Examines individuals in relationship to society and how different disciplines analyze this relationship and propose solutions to the problems they identify. Students complete an experiential learning group project that involves interviewing staff and consumers of local agencies and businesses.

Open to majors and prospective majors only. Explores various theoretical perspectives concerning the nature of individuals, and social and cultural systems. A primary goal is to clarify, evaluate and improve the theoretical frameworks that students use when they attempt to understand social reality. Incorporates instruction on methods needed to complete the field study requirement for the HDSR major.

HDSR 363 FIELD STUDY (0–3 credits)
Provides a first-hand opportunity to integrate theory gained in the classroom with insights into and experience in the workings of an organization. Helps students become more conscious of the relationship of social roles, institutional dynamics and professional development. Students complete 200 hours of work at a site of their choosing, in consultation with the HDSR Program Coordinator. Prerequisites: HDSR 239 and 359.

Designed to help students integrate the practical experience of the field study with theoretical models, particularly those studied in the HDSR core courses. Through class discussion and individual presentations, students share thoughts, ideas, research and experiences. Provides a supportive framework for writing the field study paper. Prerequisite: HDSR 363. (IE)

This advanced interdisciplinary core course introduces the political-philosophical paradigm called “liberalism” that emerged out the European Enlightenment, and which underlies the constitutional democracies of the modern West, including the United States. Next, the rapid ascendancy in recent decades of a particular brand of liberalism – often dubbed “neoliberalism”— and its implications are explored. And finally, the basic assumptions about the roles of individuals, governmental entities, and the “market” (i.e., capitalist economy) that are inherent in both liberalism and neoliberalism are subjected to deep critiques from perspectives such as Marxism, feminism and critical race theory. This course is intended to help students prepare for the HDSR Problem Analysis Presentation, as well as for civic and professional life after college as con­tribut­ing members of democratic and global societies. Prerequisites: HDSR 239 and 359. (D-D, W)   

HDSR 482 SPECIAL TOPICS (3 credits)
Selected topics determined by the instructor for upper-level study.


Collaborative research with faculty funded by the Ford/Knight Program.

HDSR 485 INDEPENDENT STUDY (1-3 credits)
Investigation of a specific topic conceived and planned by the student in consultation with a faculty supervisor.

Students prepare a public presentation on a social issue. In addition to this "Problem Analysis," seniors complete a reflective essay reviewing their work in the HDSR Program. Seminar members participate in critical evaluations of the presentations, in activities preparing for job searches and graduate school applications, and provide leadership for the HDSR program.

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