This is the 2000-01 Eckstein Lecture at the Center for the Study of Democracy, UC Irvine. This paper consides the applicability of rational actor theory as well as cultural explanations to citizen engagement with politics. Citizen participation in politics is a crucial component of democracy, and studies of citizen participation have been a mainstay of political science analyses of democratic politics. Rational actor theory is one of the dominant modes of analysis in contemporary political science. But citizen participation and rational actor theory have had an uneasy relationship with one another. The paper considers these alternate models of civic engagement as applied to research on political participation in America.