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From a class in Beyoncé’s Lemonade to sex toy design: the world’s 13 most unusual university courses


University students in the UK might be spending more money on higher education than ever before, but we’d be willing to bet that many will still occasionally find themselves falling asleep during lectures. Trying to sit through a boring presentation is a challenge at the best of times: combine that with a raging hangover, and you’ve got a fast ticket to Nap City.

But while many of us had to endure dry-as-dust academic sermons during our student years, there are some university courses that would be guaranteed to keep our attention – no matter how many Jägerbombs we’d sunk in the Student Union the night before.

From a new module inviting students to explore the politics behind Beyoncé’s Lemonade, to classes in sex toy design and “wasting time on the internet”, we’ve rounded up the world’s most unique university courses right here. 

1. Black Women, Beyoncé, and Popular Culture


As of September 2016, the University of Texas at San Antonio now offers a course all about Lemonade. The module ‘Black Women, Beyoncé and Popular Culture’ uses Bey’s seminal visual album as a starting point for exploring the “theoretical, historical, and literary frameworks of black feminism”, and is divided into themes based on the story arc of the album – starting with Formation and ending with All Night.

Course leader Professor Kinitra Brooks describes Lemonade as a “meditation on contemporary black womanhood”, and requires her students to delve into issues of race, class and gender by reading a wide range of black woman writers, from Patricia Hill Collins to Toni Morrison and Warsan Shire. 

2. Sex Toy Design 


Industrial design students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia are putting their skills to good use. In their workshop, dubbed the Future Sex Studio, they apply the principles of industrial design to the most intimate of products.

“If you take an industrial design perspective and you take [sex toys] out of the symbols and conventions of the adult industry, I believe you get a better product,” course leader Dr Judith Glover told the BBC in May 2016.

3. The Simpsons and Philosophy


Touted as a "fairly rigorous" course, this two-unit class at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley examines the hit cartoon series through the eyes of Nietzsche, Plato and more.

Students explore weighty questions such as, what does Homer's infamous "D'oh" utterance really say about his existential self? Is Marge's voluminous hair life-affirming or a symbol of the degradation of society? Or so we imagine...

4. David Beckham Studies

david beckham

This 12-week module at Staffordshire University was offered as part of the BA in Sports, Media and Culture, and included heavyweight topics such as Beck's ever-evolving hairstyles, the state of his marriage to Posh and his status "as the object of a great many fantasies." That's certainly one text book we'd enjoy leafing through.

5. Zombie Studies


We enjoy a good zombie movie as much as the next person, but if you really have a thing for animated corpses, head to the University of Baltimore where a dedicated course allows students to "get ready for a zombie apocalypse" by writing horror scripts, watching zombie flicks and drawing storyboards of their ideal monster movies. Gold star for the killer idea.

6. Fat Studies


The term "chewing the fat" takes on a whole new meaning with this course offered by George Washington University in the US. The class examines concepts of fatness and obesity through the realm of film, literature, anthropology and history, throwing the "cultural baggage" of overweight people firmly into the spotlight.

7. Wasting Time on the Internet


Forget law or medicine – in 2014, Pennsylvania University launched a course called 'Wasting Time on the Internet'. Yes, really.

This rigorous-sounding intellectual series involves students communicating with each other for three hours a week via social media and chat rooms only, with the subsequent conversations contributing towards "substantial works of literature". And we thought biochemistry was difficult...

8. The Phallus Course


Offered by the department of critical theory and social justice at Los Angeles' liberal Occidental College, this in-depth study programme explores "feminist and queer takings-on of the phallus."

Topics include "the relation between the phallus and the penis ... and the relation of the phallus and fetishism." That's your dinner party conversation sorted, then.

9. Arguing with Judge Judy

judge judy

If you find yourself screaming at the TV at the sheer injustice of Judge Judy and the like, it's time to enrol at the University of California, where 'Arguing With Judge Judy: Popular 'Logic' On TV Shows' will allow a channel for your frustrations.

The course picks apart popular logical fallacies on reality TV shows. Sadly, it hasn't got as far as Jeremy Kyle yet – but where there's life, there's hope.

10. Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame

lady gaga

In no small boast to the star's ego, Lady Gaga has been awarded her very own degree course at the University of South Carolina. Run by what sounds suspiciously like a Gaga groupie masquerading as a college tutor (Professor Mathieu Deflem has been to see the singer in concert 30 times), the unit gets students to "engage in sound and substantiated scholarly thinking" on Gaga's meteoric rise to fame.

Then they all dance in the lecture theatre aisles to her greatest hits – or so we like to think.

11. Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion


If you're a muggle who wants to be a wizard, prepare for a disappointment. The 'Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion' module, available as part of the BA in Education Studies at Durham University, doesn't teach spells and Quidditch. 

Instead, the series of 22 lectures and 11 seminars looks at how J. K. Rowling's novels reflect prejudice and citizenship in modern society. Not quite as thrilling as Hogwarts, but a good excuse to re-visit the books nonetheless.

12. Underwater Basket Weaving


Contrary to what the name suggests, you don't need a diver's license to enrol on this module. Offered at a range of universities in the US, including the Reed College of Portland and the University of California, it involves crafting baskets by dipping them in water and letting them soak.

Recently, the term 'underwater basket weaving' has come into usage to refer to a course that's deemed to be worthless - which we're sure holders of the qualification appreciate.

13. Politicizing Beyoncé 


Yep, that’s right: another course on Queen B. Similarly to the module available at the University of Texas, the 'Politicizing Beyonce' course at New Jersey's Rutgers University uses Beyoncé as a figure to challenge students’ understandings of race, class, gender and sexual politics. 

Course leader Kevin Allred, students are required to analyse her work “in conversation with larger issues in an attempt to answer: can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?” Any excuse to watch the Hold Up video on loop...

Images: iStock, Getty



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