The best pop culture courses you can study at uni, from ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus’ to ‘Bruce Springsteen’s Theologies’

Buy Tickets

Ever wanted to study Harry Potter at uni? Well, you can

Who says degrees have to be boring? Let your mates do sensible STEM subjects, and give these pop-culture courses a try instead.

1. ‘Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism

Where: UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN, USA

What you learn: The theory behind the superstars’ music videos focusing on black female creativity, what black women want and how they survive different kinds of violence. Feminism is at the core of the conversation, and using Beyoncé and Rihanna as leading examples makes this theoretical thinking accessible, contemporary and relevant.

2. ‘The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender and Media

Where: SKIDMORE COLLEGE, USA

What you learn: This course is over, but it sounds pretty interesting: it examines sociological thinking ‘about identity, entertainment, media and fame’ using Miley ‘as a lens’ after all that MTV Awards ruckus a few years ago highlighted “the ways in which intersectional identities are shaped by pop culture and mass media”. The course also includes “a feminist critique of media and sociology of media approach to the Miley ‘problem’.”

harry potter kids

3. ‘Harry Potter and The Age of Illusion

Where: DURHAM UNIVERSITY, UK

What you learn: This is a single module in the university’s Education Studies BA, setting the franchise within its ‘social, cultural and educational context and understand some of the reasons for its popularity’, and comparing the books’ relevance to the education system today. Themes such as ‘prejudice and intolerance, peer pressure, good citizenship and ideals of adulthood’ are explored.

4. ‘Bruce Springsteen’s Theologies

Where: RUTGERS UNIVERSITY, NEW JERSEY, USA

What you learn: ‘Theologies’ is unsurprisingly offered to Theology students, with the first part focused on the critical use of religious motifs in The Boss’ early songs. The second part examines key motifs of sin and redemption in albums after ‘Darkness’, and the third focuses on engagement and re-imagining biblical stories, examined against passages from the Bible. Sounds a bit intense.

5. ‘The Beatles, Popular Music and Society

Where: LIVERPOOL HOPE UNIVERSITY, UK

What you learn: This MA focuses on the studio sound and compositions of the iconic group, and how Liverpool helped to shape their music. It examines the significance of their work in construction of identity, ethnicity, industry and locality and popular music as a social practice.

6. ‘Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows

Where: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, USA

What you learn: Logical fallacies (arguments that don’t add up) on reality court show ‘Judge Judy’ are identified in this freshman seminar. There is a discussion on the apparent popularity of answers that avoid a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

7. ‘The Simpsons and Philosophy

Where: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, USA

What you learn: Another sadly expired course. Here the popular cartoon was explored through the eyes of famous philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant and Plato. The course was described as ‘fun, but intellectually challenging’, not aiming to find philosophy in the long-running show, but to elucidate philosophy through it.

David Bowie

David Bowie, pictured in 2005

8. ‘David Bowie

Where: NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, USA

What you learn: Vivien Goldman, NYU’s resident “Punk Professor” has explored Bowie’s involvement with Tibet, Buddhism, German Expressionism and his interest in existentialism. Producer Tony Visconti has been a guest speaker at this course. Goldman’s other original courses at NYU include one on Punk, another on Bob Marley and Post-colonial music and another on Fela Kuti. Very cool.

9. ‘English 2169: Jay-Z and Kanye West

What you learn: The (sadly cancelled) English class was devoted to the hip-hop superstars, looking at their careers from a historical perspective of hip-hop, the similarities and differences from what poets do and how their rise to celebrity and corporate power ‘alter what we understand as the American dream’.

10. ‘Robin Hood Studies

Where: NOTTINGHAM UNIVERSITY, UK

What you learn: This Masters course is no longer, but while it was in operation it involved 15th century manuscripts and the beloved character’s place in English society. Dr Rob Lutton, Nottingham’s medieval history lecturer, said at the time: “The course provides an exciting opportunity for anyone with an interest in the origins and development of England’s most enduring legendary figure.”

kendrick lamar video element

11. ‘Good Kids, Mad Cities

Where: AUGUSTA UNIVERSITY (FKA GEORGIA REGENTS UNIVERSITY), USA

What you learn: Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ is compared with James Joyce’s Ulysses, Spike Lee and others. It looks at the role urban living plays in the development of young people and how it effects them as adults, spanning cities such as Dublin, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Words: Maddy O’Keefe