What's the weirdest university course you know of?

By Grant Jacobs 27/01/2011

(Lighter fare while I’m bogged down with a grant application.)

Today I learnt that former Miss Canada finalist, Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, has been awarded the world’s first Master’s degree in Beatle-ology. Actually it’s a more formal ‘Beatles, Popular Music and Society’ degree, which every newspaper on the planet will no doubt send up.

So, readers, what’s the weirdest degree courses you know of?*

Here’s a just few, to get you started.

How about The Phallus? It’s as straight-forward a course title as you ask for. This from Occidental College in California.

It’s a serious course, naturally, but can you imagine telling the date you just got an A in The Phallus?

The full list of Occidental College’s Critical Theory and Social Justice courses includes Stupidity.

And I thought that was something students did naturally.

Here’s the final two sentences of the course description, out of context:

Stupidity, which has been evicted from the philosophical premises and dumbed down by psychometric psychology, has returned in the postmodern discourse against Nation, Self, and Truth and makes itself felt in political life ranging from the presidency to Beavis and Butthead. This course examines stupidity.

Queen’s University Belfast offers an open learning course in Feel the Force: How to Train in the Jedi Way.

press release describes the course as teaching ’the real-life psychological techniques behind Jedi mind tricks, and examines the wider issues behind the Star Wars universe, like balance, destiny, dualism, fatherhood and fascism.’

There’s been a small outbreak of science fiction here on sciblogs. Star Trek fans could try Georgetown’s PHIL-180: Philosophy and Star Trek.**

Among the questions the course asks of students is ‘Could we go back in time and kill our grandmothers?’

Offer your favourites in the comments.


I’m torn between the weirdest course and the funniest title, so go for them both.

* Serious readers would point out that these are an exercise in what we might call The IgNobel Problem. The titles might look daft to an outsider at first brush, but a little thought suggests that there’s a decent line of inquiry there. But that’d spoil the fun.

** Before anyone asks, I’m not against Star Trek, but I’m not a fan of it either. No, I’m not fence-sitting. It’s just something that has never caught on with me.

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0 Responses to “What's the weirdest university course you know of?”

  • They’ve now been deleted, otherwise the homeopathy degrees masquerading as science from several UK universities would have been in the running.

  • Stuart,

    Not only would homeopathy courses in universities—or anywhere really—be weird, they’d be *wrong*. (Put another way, they’d also fail the “IgNobel test”.)

    I did see a few ‘alternative health’ courses, but I didn’t track them back to their institutes to see what the deal was.

  • From the American University of Complementary Medicine

    A Ph.D. in Ayurvedic Medicine or Ph.D. in Homeopathy might include the course:

    Bio-Energetic Medicine and Biophysics

    Description: This course explores the current trend in research that employs the theories of biophysics to offer explanations as to why energy medicine such as homeopathy, flower essences, acupuncture, and others work.

  • Ah, yes, but that is the American University of Complementary Medicine, rather than a more conventional university 🙂 *Sigh* It’ll no doubt be a private institution. Would check, but I’m flat out. Or lazy depending on your point of view 🙂 Weird that they’re allowed to award higher degrees, never mind degrees at all, though. You’d hope there is some sort of control of what can be awarded, eh?

    As for the biophysics of why homeopathy, etc., might work, I once argued against Brian Josephson on Stephen Curry’s blog (before in moved from Nature Network to Occam’s Typewriter) on this. It’s sad to see people trying to claim there is biophysics to support these things. Fraudulent, even, really. I’ve studied water molecules around macromolecules as it happens (based on crystallography data) and even when proteins (etc.) are crystallised, they have no long-lasting network of waters around them. They do have sites of hydration, locations that are usually occupied by a water molecule, but are in rapid exchange with the bulk solvent, along with a few true “bound” water molecules. I should really blog on waters and proteins , DNA, etc. some day. It’s an interesting topic if “how molecules really work” is your thing.

  • Ross,

    Then you’d like the cartoon featured in my Sept. 3rd article 😉

    I think I’m safe as I keep telling bioinformatics people (my field) that there ought to be more physics involved!

    Tongue-in-cheek, one worry is a lot of these courses that (at first blush) seem weird are mostly philosophy courses, which must have some worrying that philosophy on its own—i.e. not grounded by evidence-based work—can get a little dubious with respect to reality. Seriously, you’d like to think they’d just trying to “sex up” courses with a quirky title.

    Basic logic is useful, as I wrote last year, but I’m personally less keen on the more exotic stuff, but it’s just I’d rather be exploring how biological systems work or working on some new algorithm.