What is an African Studies Degree?

Africa, sometimes referred to as the ‘Mother Continent,’ is the oldest inhabited and most culturally and geographically diverse continent on earth.

Programs in African studies – also known as Africana studies – offer students an opportunity to study the continent’s histories, cultures, geographies, politics, and economics, and to learn about the aid, trade and investment, and migration flows that link Africa to the rest of the world in the era of globalization.

This wide scope of topics means that students of African studies gain a cross-disciplinary exposure to Africa and come to understand why it is the cradle of humankind.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in African Studies – Three to Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, in particular, African studies programs cultivate and promote interdisciplinary approaches to the field. They integrate Africa-related foundational courses in other disciplines and departments such as history, political science, anthropology, economics, philosophy, art history, visual culture, world languages and culture, and English. Some schools offer study abroad opportunities in one or more African countries.

Here is a sample of the integrated African studies bachelor’s curriculum:

African Studies

  • African Development and Underdevelopment
  • African Language and Cultures
  • African Political Thought
  • African Systems of Thought
  • African World Writing
  • African Archaeology
  • China and Africa
  • HIV / AIDS in Africa and African Diaspora (the African Diaspora is the voluntary and involuntary movement of Africans and their descendants to various parts of the world during the modern and pre-modern periods)
  • Democracy in Africa
  • Hip Hop and Popular Culture in Africa
  • History of Africana Philosophy
  • Introduction to African Literature
  • Introduction to Contemporary Africa
  • Literature, Film, and Society in Africa
  • Science, Technology, and African Development
  • Seminar in African Regional Studies
  • Social Media and Political Change in Africa
  • Southern Africa
  • Islam, Youth, and Social Change in Africa
  • Research in African Studies

African American Studies

  • Exploitation of the Third World
  • Introduction to African American Studies
  • Comparative Slavery
  • Introduction to Egyptian Hieroglyphics
  • Black Thought in the Diaspora
  • Comparative Black Literature
  • Black Social-Political Thought
  • Black Experience in Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Black Experience in Film

Art History

  • Introduction to African Art History
  • West African Art
  • Issues in African Art
  • Research in African Art
  • Central and East African Art


  • Economic Development in Africa
  • Economics of Black Community Development
  • Natural Resources in African Economic Development
  • Aid, Trade, and Investment

Fine Arts

  • African American Dress
  • Blacks in the Arts
  • African Dance
  • African and African American Music
  • East African Calligraphy
  • Black Women in Visual Culture


  • Introduction to Black Diaspora
  • Introduction to African History
  • West Africa since 1800
  • Slavery in Africa
  • Geography of Black Diaspora

World Languages and Cultures

  • African Films
  • Survey of Afro-French Civilization and Literature
  • Survey of Afro-Hispanic Literature
  • Introduction to Swahili
  • Introduction to Wolof
  • Introduction to Yoruba
  • Introduction to Arabic


  • History of Africana Philosophy
  • Ancient Egyptian Philosophy

Political Science

  • Introduction to African Politics
  • Introduction to Black Politics
  • Pan-Africanism
  • African Nationalism
  • World Imperialism
  • Problems of South Africa
  • Gender, Law, and Politics
  • Government and Politics of Tropical Africa
  • International Relations
  • Politics of the Third World


  • Psychology and the Black Experience
  • Race and Racism


  • International Marketing
  • International Entrepreneurship
  • Principles of International Business
  • International Human Resources Management
  • Management of International Business
  • International Financial Management
  • Business Communication


  • Intercultural-Interracial Communication
  • Multicultural Media History

Master’s Degree in African Studies – One to Two Year Duration
Doctoral Degree in African Studies – Three to Five Year Duration
Graduate programs in African studies are designed to train scholars and practitioners in the field, typically with an emphasis on three areas of concentration:

  • Language and Culture
  • Public Policy and Development
  • Africa in World Affairs

Many graduate schools offer experiential learning opportunities in Africa and/or in organizations working on African issues.

Common core / required courses include:

  • Scope and Methods Of African Studies
  • Theory in African Studies
  • Contemporary Issues of Public Policy and Development
  • Africa in Global Politics
  • Language, Literature, and Arts
  • Gender Theory and Practice in Africa
  • Thesis Research (Master’s)
  • Dissertation Research (Doctorate)

Graduate Certificate in African Studies – Varying Durations
The African studies graduate certificate program allows master’s and doctoral students in other disciplines, such as law, management, international relations, political science, communications, education, fine arts, medicine, and public health, to expand the Africentric perspective in their own course of study.

Some may wish to explore a specific area of African studies, while others may pursue the certificate for employment or employment advancement purposes. The certificate curriculum often focuses on courses in the humanities and social sciences. Longer certificate programs may incorporate a study abroad component.

Here are some sample courses:

  • Music in Africa
  • Afro-Caribbean Dance
  • Political Economy of Africa
  • African Politics
  • African International Relations
  • The Rise of the Modern Pan-African Movement
  • African American Health Issues

Degrees Similar to African Studies

African American Studies
This degree program examines the history, politics, culture, and economics of North American people of African descent. Its diverse subject matter spans African civilization, African American literature, the rise and fall of American slavery, the civil rights movement, Blacks and the American political system, and the history of American jazz.

Students of anthropology study the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, how they communicate and socialize with one another, and how their bodies and cultures have changed over time. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics.

The focus of archaeology degree programs is the study of how people lived in the past. Students of this social science learn about the culture and evolution of extinct civilizations. They attend lectures and work in labs and on research projects. They get a sense of archaeology degree jobs by conducting excavations to recover artifacts like tools, clothing, decorations, and ancient ruins.

Area Studies
Students of this discipline usually focus on a specific area or region of the world and study its histories, politics, economics, languages, and cultures. Area studies programs have names like African Studies or Asian Studies, while ethnic studies programs have names like African American Studies or Asian American Studies.

Art History
Students of art history study the history and development of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, filmmaking, and architecture.

History is the study of change over time. Degree programs in the field examine political history, diplomatic / international relations history, cultural/ideological history, social/living standards history, economic history, intellectual/philosophical history, and military/armed conflict history.

International Relations
Degree programs in international relations are concerned with looking at how states / governments relate to one another. These relations include trade, cooperation, disputes, conflicts, and war. The principles of diplomacy and foreign policy, international law, and organizations like the United Nations are also studied.

Islamic Studies
Islamic studies degree programs focus on the cultural aspects and doctrines of the Islamic world from the time of the sixth-century Prophet Mohammad to the present day. Courses examine Islamic history, politics, law, philosophy, literature, scripture, and faith. Students learn about the two main denominations of the religion of Islam: Sunni Islam and Shi’ite Islam. They also study Sufism, which focuses on the mystical elements of Islam; and Sharia law, which is based on the Koran and the sayings of Mohammad.

The Arabic language is typically not a focus of the Islamic studies curriculum. However, it may be touched upon in some programs because Islam originated in the Arabic-speaking countries. Coursework also looks at the spread of Islam beyond Arabic-speaking countries and the strategic importance of the field in multicultural society.

Religious Studies
The focus of religious studies degree programs is the nature and origin of religious belief and traditions. Coursework includes the study of specific religions such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Catholicism, as well as religious history, politics, and anthropology.

Women’s Studies
Degree programs in women’s studies focus on feminism and the history, culture, and politics of women. Courses examine the categories of identity – gender, sexuality, race, class, age, ability, and geopolitical affiliation – as well as the social processes and structures that frame them.

Skills You’ll Learn

In addition to an in-depth knowledge of African cultural, historical, societal, and political contexts, students of African Studies come away from their education in the field with the following very transferable skills:

  • Ability to communicate evidence and analysis orally
  • Ability to integrate knowledge from several disciplinary perspectives
  • Ability to synthesize independent research findings in a written format
  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity and avoidance of cultural stereotyping
  • Global perspective
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Understanding of diversity, equity, and justice
  • Understanding of the relationship between the present and the future with the past

What Can You Do with an African Studies Degree?

The interdisciplinary nature of African studies leads its graduates to an eclectic mix of careers. With knowledge about the world and strong skills in communication and collaboration, critical thinking, and research methodology, graduates are equipped to enter a diverse array of fields.

While advancing in some of those fields may require additional education and/or on-the-job training, a degree in African studies lays a very stable professional foundation.

These are just some of the arenas in which African studies graduates may go on to build careers:

Government / Public Policy / International Affairs / Foreign Service

  • Peacekeeping
  • Program administration
  • Economic development
  • Resource development
  • Public-private partnerships
  • Governance
  • Policy making and analysis
  • Political advising
  • Public sector reform
  • Poverty-reduction strategy
  • Ethics and anti-corruption
  • Human Rights
  • United Nations
  • Department of State
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Commerce
  • Department of Defense
  • US Agency for International Development
  • National Security Agency
  • Government agencies such as the US African Development Agency


  • Teaching (K-12, community college, university)
  • Research
  • Multicultural programming
  • Administration
  • Library science

Advocacy / Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

  • Domestic and international advocacy
  • Humanitarian services
  • Museums and galleries
  • Disaster / disease relief
  • Health advocacy
  • Policy development
  • Program administration
  • Volunteer coordination
  • Grant writing
  • Fundraising / development
  • Human rights organizations (examples: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch)
  • Community action agencies
  • Non-profit organizations (examples: National Black Business Council)

International Business

  • Management
  • Human resources
  • Economics
  • International development
  • Consulting firms
  • Marketing companies
  • Businesses targeting Black and African clientele
  • Agricultural economics


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