Looking for something to study? Try something more unusual

If you thought that learning about zombies at university was somewhat off-beat (see my last post), here are some other academic courses you might consider.

1. The Simpsons and Philosophy. This is taught in a special programme at the University of California, Berkeley. Here’s the course synopsis:

‘The purpose of The Simpsons and Philosophy DeCal is to provide students with a unique introductory look into a number of varied academic areas of interest using The Simpsons as a tool for further understanding.  From philosophy to religion, from science to politics, students will explore a number of different world views and how The Simpsons engages in such discourses.  By taking this class, students will come to appreciate how The Simpsons can lead to better understanding of, well, pretty much everything.’

2. The Science of Harry Potter.  This is offered at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and ‘examines the magical events in J.K. Rowling’s books and explains them through the basic principles of physics.’

3. Philosophy and Star Trek. You can take this at Georgetown University. This course is ‘an introduction to certain topics in metaphysics and epistemology philosophy, centered around major philosophical questions that come up again and again in Star Trek.’

So what should we say about these and other similar programmes? Are they just rubbish? Are they examples of popular culture undermining genuine scholarship? Or are these legitimate examples of academic analysis and critique? In fact, should we study popular culture to understand more about society?

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10 Comments on “Looking for something to study? Try something more unusual”

  1. Ernie Ball Says:

    Get ready for much more of this sort of nonsense. Courses on Britney Spears, Jedward, Grand Theft Auto and (literally) whatever you’re having yourself. It’s the inevitable result of introducing market based resource allocation models which all but force certain disciplines to offer such dross in order to attract students. Other consequences: grade inflation and a total collapse in quality. But sure who cares about those things?

    When humanities departments are not twisting themselves into these strange shapes, they’re desperately trying to prove the “marketability” of what they teach, again, under the corrosive pressures of “the (infallible) market”. What is rapidly being evacuated from the system is any space for the exercise of judgement.

  2. no-name Says:

    Ernie: by your logic Dickens should not be studied at university. Consider reviews of “The Pickwick Papers” in its day, which dismissed that work as popular dross.

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      In other words, because our judgement is fallible, we cannot trust it at all and should therefore let the market/the “customer” decide for us what is worthy of being taught. To avoid the calamity of prematurely excluding a potential Dickens, we’ll endure the greater calamity of abjuring all use of our professional judgement.


      • Hm. What’s the other side of that argument? That not teaching Dickens is a price worth paying if we thereby avoid following current fashions?

        • Ernie Ball Says:

          Between the indiscriminate acceptance of all that the market would support and peremptory dismissals of all that is new I maintain that there is place for reasoned distinction making. Unfortunately such discrimination is rapidly being evacuated from our universities.


          • Ernie, leaving aside for a moment my suspicion that the term ‘market’ is meaningless in this context, how do you propose the ‘reasoned distinction’ should be made? And is anyone entitled to make it, or are there qualifications?

  3. anna notaro Says:

    *In fact, should we study popular culture to understand more about society?*
    This question is a rhetorical one as far as I’m concerned, popular culture has been a valid subject of academic enquiry since Richard Hoggart published The Uses of Literacy in 1957 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Uses_of_Literacy) A year later Raymond Williams, an early pioneer in the field of “cultural studies”, wrote an essay entitled “Culture is Ordinary”. Williams introduced a new way of thinking about ‘culture’, one where culture is wrested from that privileged space of artistic production and specialist knowledge (i.e. high culture in the Matthew Arnold tradition of ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’), into the lived experience of the everyday.
    Now, I have a lot of sympathy for Ernie’s view in so far as ‘market based resource allocation models’ applied to education undermine academic standards etc. (still, being a bit of a ‘trekkie’ myself I’d love a Philosophy of Star Trek course!), equally I can understand the reasons why many lecturers, faced with undergraduates’ poor literacy standards, might look back at the canon of the Arnoldian tradition with some nostalgia, still we need not to lose sight of the fact that intellectual rigour can flourish in any small facet of what we define as *(popular)culture*. It’s up to us to ‘make it so’, as Jean-Luc Picard, the captain of the USS Enterprise-D in the Star Trek fictional universe, would say!

  4. Perry Share Says:

    Well, there are serious institutions teaching something called ‘theology’, so it depends how you cut it . . .

  5. TheChrisD Says:

    I sure wouldn’t mind transferring to be able to take that Simpsons course…


  6. […] ces exemples de cours décalés sont cités par le blog de Ferdinand Von Prodzynski. L’ancien président de Dublin College University se demande benoîtement s’il est bien […]


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