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Controversial Drama: Sex, Politics and the Law in Popular Culture from 1500 to Today


Admission requirements

This course is an Honours Class and therefore in principle only available to students of the Honours College. There are a few places available for regular students.

Target group:
Third-year (bachelor’s) Honours Students; however, second-year undergraduates from the Honours College may also enrol. Postgraduates are not allowed to enrol in and attend an Honours Class. This course invites students from all backgrounds of study, and has been designed to be suitable to all, whether or not they have previously studied literature or history.


This course addresses a number of sensitive and controversial political ‘hot topics’ and legal issues found in everyday (popular) culture. Censorship for example, has recently received noted attention through the question of the national boundaries of Twitter and other social media, a question that has found itself repeatedly expressed in different forms during the past 500 years. Other issues such as Anti-Semitism and similar racist depictions in visual popular culture have been topics of discussions for centuries, where earlier popular cultures can even be seen to have fueled and inspired more recent outbursts of violence.

Furthermore, cultures’ interactions with and knowledge of aggression occurring on the margins of society have captured the imagination ever since the later middle ages, including youth gangs and rites of humiliation, responses to execution rituals, and gendered religious conversion. And what to think of taboo subjects such as depictions of prostitution, conspiracy theories, religious controversies, and the merging of sex and politics at the world stage? This course will explore modern media forms that share and transfer popular culture, alongside historical sources that address the same issues.

During this interdisciplinary course, scholars and experts will not shy away from addressing controversial issues, using insights from Religious and Gender studies, Anthropology, Law and Political Science.

Throughout the course, students will develop their research skills, including approaching materials addressing complex and controversial issues, identifying additional relevant source material, directing and managing their own research for a research paper, and articulate their ideas in written work, and discussion, as well as contribute to group activity and peer review. The course culminates in a one-day undergraduate symposium, where students will present their research conducted for this course.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Confidently approach materials addressing complex and controversial issues;

  • Use varied source materials to illustrate and support their ideas;

  • Draw comparisons across a range of sources, genres and media, both historical and contemporary (1500 – today);

  • Employ research skills and initiative in identifying additional relevant source material;

  • Direct and manage their own research for a research paper;

  • Articulate ideas effectively in written work, peer review, group activity and discussion, and a symposium presentation.


8 lectures plus a one-day symposium, in the second semester. Sessions to be held on Fridays on the following dates from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.:

31 March
7, 21, 28 April 2017
12, 19 May 2017
2, 9, 16 June 2017

The final session will be held on 16 June 2017 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.(lunch will be provided).


Old observatory, C002. Except from 31 March, on this date we will use room B006.


Working method(s):
Seminars, individual study, and a student symposium during which students will present research papers written for this course. This course emphasises research, group work, interdisciplinary cooperation, and the use of digital media tools. Throughout the course, students will be expected to explore disciplines other than their own, as well as possibilities for collaborative approaches including their own disciplines. The course consists of hands-on workshops during which a variety of primary sources are studied that reflect modern and historical popular cultures. Workshops also include discussions and debates in which the prescribed literature will be addressed, as well as lectures from (inter)national guest speakers from different fields of expertise. Blackboard will be used as a forum for communication, and to share links to relevant sources. Students will read about the relationships between the representation of controversial issues in popular culture and media today and in the past, and are expected to prepare for all sessions by reading the prescribed literature.

Course outline:
Week 1 Censorship: lecture/seminar
Week 2 Religious Controversies: Desecration and Anti-Semitism: lecture/seminar
Week 3 Rituals of Execution: lecture/seminar
Week 4 Youth Gangs: Charivari and other Rites of Humiliation: guest lecture
Week 5 Conversion and Gender: Muslim Women as ‘Other’: guest lecture
Week 6 Conspiracy Theories: lecture/seminar
Week 7 Depicting Prostitution: lecture/seminar
Week 8 Sex and Politics at the Political World Stage: guest lecture
Week 9 Student Symposium (Please note: this session will exceed the normal session length, to enable all students to present their research conducted for this course)

Course Load

This course is worth 5 EC, which means the total course load equals 140 hours.

  • Seminars: 8 seminars of 2 hours/ total 16 hours

  • Student symposium: 4 hours

  • Literature reading, seminar preparation & practical work: 75 hours

  • Assignments & final essay: 45 hours

Assessment method

  • 50% Research essay

  • 35% Presentation of essay during a one-day student symposium

  • 15% Symposium report or blog

Blackboard and uSis

Blackboard will be used in this course. Students can register for the Blackboard site two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Reading list

Required literature will be available on Blackboard, unless otherwise indicated.


Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday November 7th until Sunday November 20th through the Honours Academy, via this link


Dr. N.T. van Pelt , LUCAS, Faculty of Humanities