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Global Challenges: Diversity


Admission requirements



Human variation is fascinating: we have infinite ways to imagine, organize, and express ourselves. Given this multiplicity, how do we begin to understand diversity? We might say it includes how we know and understand the world, and the way we interact and make claims in that world. Diversity includes how societies divide themselves and relate to others. It concerns the scientific rationales, political logics, legal frameworks, and moral implications entailed in grouping together and asserting boundaries. And it involves the practices and spaces where difference matters. This course is a holistic introduction to how the humanities and social sciences have approached such topics. It examines the experiential, epistemological, institutional, and ethical aspects of human difference.

How do societies manifest divergence and distinction in opportunity? What is the relationship between individual experience, cultural expression, political economy, and institutional structure? How are disparities constructed, negotiated, and contested? When, historically and politically, do dissimilarities become visible and similarities become invisible?

To address such questions, we organize our inquiry comparatively across time and space. And we use an interpretive approach, emphasizing how we see and narrate our world, its meaning and significance. Course readings demonstrate the concepts and methods of anthropology, history, literature, sociology, and journalism. We assess their contribution towards understanding the overarching theme of social variation.

Course Objectives

Students undertaking this course will enhance their skills and knowledge. In terms of skills, they will gain proficiency in general humanistic and social science analysis. They will learn the vocabulary, methods, and styles of fields including anthropology, sociology, history, literature, and journalism. An emphasis on debate and discussion will improve confidence in verbal argumentation, and the capacity to assess what is convincing and coherent in intellectual dialogue. Throughout the course, students will write weekly reflections, as part of a course portfolio, to hone their reading comprehension and interpretation skills. A midterm will foster the capacity to apply conceptual theories to the contemporary world. A final paper will improve interdisciplinary synthesis and non-instrumental analysis.

In terms of knowledge, this course gives students a comparative and interdisciplinary introduction to the experiential, epistemological, institutional, and ethical patterning of social difference. Students will understand how the convergence of political conceptions, historical patterns, representational forms, and cultural logics bears on social variation.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course has two interrelated components in each of its seven weeks. First, due to the corona restrictions in place, for the first session of the week, students shall privately study the course readings, a plenary podcast, and set of thematic questions. Second, instructors will, depending on health and regulatory conditions, facilitate either a live or online interactive seminar. The plenary podcast is comprised of: a lecture by the course convener that explores the weekly theme through an analysis of assigned readings, supplemented by an intervention by one of the course instructors. This podcast provides context, highlights key concepts, shows different disciplinary approaches, and applies textual ideas to our world. Listening to the podcast, reflecting on the thematic questions, and conducting the weekly readings is critical to students writing a weekly reflection, due 24 hours before the second session of the week.

The seminars are where student groups will meet either in person or virtually with a course instructor. These sessions are devoted to deeper analysis of the assigned weekly texts. A novel by Jenny Erpenbeck will be read continuously from Weeks 1-6, and we will discuss this work in relationship to other readings. Each of the assigned texts introduces students to the power of analysis and argumentation in understanding humans in their moral, social, and political aspects.

Assessment Method

Students are assessed on three parameters that correspond to discrete learning aims (there is no participation grade).

First, the learning aim of critical understanding and conceptual application will be assessed through a portfolio of weekly reflections from Weeks 1-7. Along with a 750-word summary statement, this portfolio of reflections is due in its entirety by the final seminar in Week 7. This portfolio is worth 40% of the overall grade. Each 500-word reflection will be on (at least one of) the week’s texts. They are to be submitted 24 hours before the second session of the week. These reflections have two components: first, a close reading of one or more of the weekly readings, which shows awareness of the author’s argument and reasoning, and second, your own analysis of their claims, and capacity to apply their ideas to contemporary events and processes.

Second, for the purpose of deepening reading comprehension, students will submit a midterm paper in Week 4. Students will choose one of a set of pre-circulated questions. This paper will use the Week 1-4 course readings to analyse an aspect of societal and political responses to the coronavirus outbreak. This paper is worth 25% of the overall grade, and evaluates your processing of course texts up to and including the 4th week.

Third, a final essay judges analytical and interpretive capacities. It will respond to set questions on the course themes and is due in Reading Week. This is worth 35% of the overall grade. Students will formulate an argument, and empirically substantiate their position, using only course materials. Non-course texts and external references are not permitted in this final essay.

Reading list

There is one mandatory course text for students to purchase. It is a novel by the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, titled, in its English version, Go, Went, Gone (New York: New Directions, 2017. Susan Bernofsky, translator. ISBN: 978-0-8112-2594-6). It describes an intensifying set of encounters between Richard, a retired classics professor, and African refugees in Berlin. Instructors and students will collectively read this novel as the course progresses, and weave our reading of it into the analysis of other course texts.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr Ajay Gandhi (convener),