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


Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.

Key words:

Skills: Argumentation, discussion, research, presenting, academic writing.

Topics: Literature, film, communication, media, identity, culture, norms, gender, scandal, taboo.

Disciplines: Language and literature, history, law, social studies, anthropology, psychology.


This course addresses a number of sensitive and controversial political ‘hot topics’ and legal issues found in everyday (popular) culture. Sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, has recently received noted attention through the media coverage of high-profile cases and the rise of the #Me Too movement on Twitter and other social media platforms. The movement evolved over time and gradually permeated popular culture, including television shows and film.

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 fuelled and inspired more recent outbursts of violence. 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 students will not shy away from addressing controversial issues, using insights from Religious and Gender studies, Anthropology, Law and Political Science. 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.

Programme and timetable:

Fridays 15-17 hrs. Student symposium. Time student symposium to be announced.

Week 1: 25 October - Religious Controversies: Desecration and Anti-Semitism in the Theatre: seminar
Week 2: 1 November - A World of Performativity: Rituals of execution on screen and page: seminar
Week 3: 8 November - Conversion, Gender and Fashion: seminar
Week 4: 15 November - Bodies and Society: guest lecture by Sander Kok
Week 5: 22 November - Depicting Prostitution: seminar
Week 6: 29 November - Sex and Politics at the Political World Stage: seminar
Week 7: 6 December - Taboo Languages: guest lecture by Dr. Anna Augustyniak
Week 8: 13 December - Conspiracy theories and popular culture: seminar
Week 9: 17 January - Student symposium.

Attendance is mandatory.


The Old Observatory. The Old Observatory. Room c003. Student symposium on the 17th of January takes place in the Old Observatory room B104.

Reading list:

  • Nadia Thérèse van Pelt, Drama in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Playmakers and their Strategies (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019). Please find a copy of this book on the shelf for this course at the UB. For sale on the Routledge website and on Amazon UK, Bol and similar booksellers;

  • Paths of Glory, Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1957;

  • Wager, Lewis, [Life and Repentaunce of Marie Magdelene] A new enterlude, neuer before this tyme imprinted, entreating of the life and repentaunce of Marie Magdalene not only godlie, learned and fruitefull, but also well furnished with pleasaunt myrth and pastime, very delectable for those which shall heare or reade the same (London: John Charlewood, 1566), Early English Books Online;

  • A selection of theoretical articles that are available in the UB.

Other possible literature will be announced in class or via Blackboard.

Course load and teaching method:

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

  • Seminars: 8 seminars of 2 hours, total 16 hours; (attendance is mandatory)

  • Student symposium: 5 hours; (attendance is mandatory)

  • Literature reading: 6 hours/week, total 48 hours;

  • Seminar preparation & study questions: 3.25 hours/week, total 26 hours;

  • Assignments & final essay: 45 hours.

Assessment methods:

  • 35% presentation of essay topic and findings, given during a student symposium;

  • 15% symposium report (300-600 words);

  • 50% research essay (3000 words).

Students could only pass this course after successful completion of all partial exams.


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

Registration process:

Enrolling in this course is possible from Monday the 19th of August up to and including Thursday the 5th of September until 23:59 o'clock through the Honours Academy. The registration link will be posted on the student website of the Honours Academy.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally after successful completion of the Bachelor Honours Class.


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