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The 12 most unusual university courses taught around the world

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From a law module inspired by Harry Potter to a class in sex toy design, we think leftfield lectures should be encouraged.

University students in the UK might be spending more money on higher education than ever before, but we’re willing to bet that many 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 that uses the Harry Potter universe to explore legal issues to a class on philosophy and The Simpsons, universities around the world have offered some seriously distinctive courses over the years. Many of these classes use pop culture as a jumping-off point to explore wider themes of society and politics, encouraging students to think critically about the significance of the entertainment they consume.

Read on to learn more about the world’s most intriguing, eccentric and exciting university courses. Back to school, anyone?

1. Harry Potter and Law 

In October 2018, a top law university in India announced that it would be introducing a course based on Harry Potter. The seminar ‘An interface between Fantasy Fiction Literature and Law: Special focus on Rowling’s Potterverse’ will be taught at the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata from December. 

Students will participate in 45 hours of discussion about parallels between the legal system and social structures in Harry Potter and real-life situations. Galloping gargoyles!

2. Politicizing Beyoncé 

beyonce

In 2010, lecturer Kevin Allred began teaching the ’Politicizing Beyoncé’ course at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. He still teaches the course today as a visiting academic at various universities, using Beyoncé as a figure to challenge students’ understandings of race, class, gender and sexual politics. 

Per Allred, students on the course are required to analyse Queen B’s work “in conversation with larger issues in an attempt to answer: can Beyoncé’s music be seen as a blueprint for progressive social change?” We’ll take any excuse to watch the Hold Up video on loop…

3. The Simpsons and Philosophy

simp

Founded in 2003 and touted as a “fairly rigorous” course, this class at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley examines Matt Groening’s hit cartoon series through the eyes of Nietzsche, Plato and more.

Over the course of two units, 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. Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion

witch

If you’re a muggle who wants to be a wizard, prepare to be disappointed. The ‘Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion’ module, currently 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 JK 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.

5. Black Women, Beyoncé, and Popular Culture

lemonade

Because you can never have enough Beyoncé, the University of Texas at San Antonio began offering a course on Lemonade in September 2016. The module ‘Black Women, Beyoncé and Popular Culture’ used 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 album’s narrative arc – starting with Formation and ending with All Night.

Course leader Professor Kinitra Brooks described Lemonade as a “meditation on contemporary black womanhood”, and required 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. 

6. Sex Toy Design 

st

Industrial design students at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia put their skills to good use in a workshop dubbed the Future Sex Studio, where they applied 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.

7. Wasting Time on the Internet

laptop

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

This strenuous-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. Arguing with Judge Judy

judge judy

Back in 2014, the University of California, Berkeley offered a course titled ‘Arguing With Judge Judy: Popular “Logic” On TV Shows’.

The module picked apart popular logical fallacies on reality TV shows, exploring why the irrational language often used by people on such programmes to defend themselves. Sadly, instructor Daniel Melia never tackled Jeremy Kyle – but where there’s life, there’s hope.

9. Zombie Studies

zombie

We enjoy a good zombie movie as much as the next person. But those with a real thing for animated corpses headed to the University of Baltimore in 2010, where a dedicated course allowed 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.

10. Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame

lady gaga

Offering no small boost to the star’s ego, Lady Gaga was awarded her very own degree course at the University of South Carolina in 2010. Run by Professor Mathieu Deflem, who has been to see the singer in concert at least 30 times, the unit required students to “engage in sound and substantiated scholarly thinking” on Gaga’s meteoric rise to fame.

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

11. The Phallus Course

aubergine

Offered by the department of critical theory and social justice at Los Angeles’ liberal Occidental College in 2007, this in-depth study programme explored “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.

12. David Beckham Studies

david beckham

This much-maligned 12-week module at Staffordshire University was offered as part of the BA in Sports, Media and Culture in 2000, and included heavyweight topics such as Beck’s ever-evolving hairstyles, the state of his marriage to Victoria and his status “as the object of a great many fantasies.” That’s one text book we’d enjoy leafing through.

This article was first published in September 2016 and has been updated since then. Images: Charles Deluvio/UnplashiStock, Getty Images