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Historical Approaches to Diversity: History of Family and Marriage Patterns




Admissions requirements



Family and marriage are fundamental social institutions, just like the state and the market, present in all societies. Family and marriage have shaped the lives of men, women and children and of the communities they belong to. Ideas about family and marriage have shaped ideas about how men and women should relate to one another, and which rights and duties they have. Throughout history, the relationship between men and women has largely been mediated through marriage and the family. The study of family and marriage is hence the study of the relationship between men and women, and it is also the study of culture.

This course studies diversity in family and marriage cultures. Most particularly, this course studies the history of family and marriage cultures, which have changed over the course of time, and which have shaped society.

Many of today’s families are largely nuclear families and many marriages today, especially in the West, generally come about based on the free choice of autonomous individuals. However, this so-called autonomous marriage system is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only after the Enlightenment and Romanticism, the Industrial Revolution and urbanization, that individualism started shaping the lives of humans, including the way humans founded families. Before these ideological, social and economic movements, marriage, as tradition had it, was not solely a matter for individuals. The question who married whom, was a family matter and not left merely to the individuals marrying.

Today, in many parts of the world, such traditional patterns of marriage, called arranged marriage, still exist, and even thrive. In many parts of the world marriage and family are not individualized institutions but remain traditional structures, deeply rooted in communitarianism, emphasizing values that support group belonging.

This course aims to explore how marriage and family modernized in large parts of the West, but also to study where this modernization did not (fully) occur. It compares the modern marriage system to traditional marriage systems highlighting that marriage systems are divers and need to be studied in order to understand the divers roles individuals play in modern or in traditional patterns of family life. This course will zoom in on heterosexual marriage and family patterns, as well as touch upon other divers marriage patterns.

Through studying family and marriage, this course addresses a whole array of topical questions: do individuals enjoy freedoms and rights in modern families differently from individuals in traditional families and marriages? What does the study of different marriage and family patterns teach us about individual autonomy and choice? Do arranged marriages comply to human rights standards? Why do many around the world hold on to traditional marriage and family patterns, in which the group dominates the individual? Which norms and values are emphasized in such group cultures and what value is placed on individualism, emancipation, autonomy and human rights? Is it desirable to achieve social change in traditional family patterns, and if so, what benefits would be had by the individual, the family and society by this change?

Course objectives

  • Understand the importance of the study of family and marriage as a field of social science

  • Understand that the study of marriage and family is the study of culture

  • Understand the divers history in family and marriage patterns

  • Identify traditional and modern marriage systems, as markers of differences in cultures

  • Understand the role of the individual in family and marriage and how that role shapes society

  • Understand the interplay of individualism and collectivism in traditional family and marriage patterns and how this shapes the exercise of one’s human rights and freedoms

  • Work confidently with primary and secondary sources in the field of marriage and family

  • Learn about various scholarly perspectives on the subject-matter

  • Learn general speaking, writing and close reading skills that efficiently contribute to an interdisciplinary learning environment


Once available, timetables will be published in the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course offers interdisciplinary methods and styles of teaching and it inspires students to adopt divers perspectives on the main topic. While it’s emphasis lies on seminar style teaching, there will be lectures, interactive classroom discussions, group work, close reading of texts during class, analysis of excerpts of literary work and film related to the topic. Students are expected to discuss readings prepared beforehand. Student’s contributions include oral presentations and written work. They will be encouraged to connect theory with practice by studying mechanisms of social change on the subject-matter. Students will be encouraged to adopt different scholarly perspectives while studying and discussing the subject-matter and will be guided towards that goal by the instructor.


Participation: 15%
Essays: 30% (2 essays, 15 % each)
Presentation of case study: 10%
Final research paper: 30%
Final research presentation: 15%

Please note:

  • In accordance with article 4.8 of the Course and Examination Regulations (OER), within 30 days after the publication of grades, the instructor will provide students the opportunity to inspect their exams/coursework.

  • There is a no re-sit policy at Leiden University College.


There will be a Blackboard site available for this course. Students will be enrolled at least one week before the start of classes.

Reading list

Our main texts will be:

  • Stephanie Coontz, Marriage, a History, How Love Conquered Marriage, 2006.

  • William J. Goode, World Revolution and Family Patterns, 1963 (only a selection is compulsory).

  • J. Cherlin, ‘Goode's "World Revolution and Family Patterns": A Reconsideration at Fifty Years,’ in Population and Development Review, Vol. 38, No. 4, December 2012, Population Council, pp. 577-607

Further reading TBA during the course.


This course is open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator. Interested non-LUC students should contact


Dr N.N. Tahir