Higher education isn’t all earnest grindwork or high-minded paper-chasing — every now and then, some professor’s enthusiasm or collegiate enthusiasm will land an eye-catching and idiosyncratic course on some university syllabus.


There’s the University of Alabama, for instance, which offers an interim course called Zombies! The Living Dead in Literature, Film and Culture — and yes, the exclamation mark is meant to be there.


Then there’s Occidental College in California, which seems to specialize in intriguing offerings like The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie: Race and Popular Culture in the United States, and the boldly titled Stupidity, an offering of the department of Critical Theory and Social Justice that promises “a philosophical examination of those operations and technologies that we conduct in order to render ourselves uncomprehending.”


A browse through the offerings of the distance learning and continuing education departments of several Canadian universities offers up several curriculum entries that promise to rival undergraduate offerings south of the border. The University of Waterloo, for instance, has two courses whose titles alone encompass so much they can’t help but intrigue.


Love is a Philosophy department entry that promises to examine “Self-love, friendship, humanitarian love, God's love, love in morality, and love in mysticism.” For the sake of balance you might want to follow it up with Evil, offered by the Religious Studies faculty, which promises that “classical and modern writers from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism will be considered.”

Memorial University offers a course in Deviance, “which may include violence, sexual deviance, delinquency, addiction, mental disorder, theft, organized crime, political deviance and corporate deviance,” according to the course description. Also part of the Sociology department’s syllabus is War and Aggression, which claims to examine “ethological, psychological and sociological approaches” to the subject.

The Royal Military College in Kingston also has a distance learning department, and offers Terrorism: Theories and Strategies, while the University of Guelph’s summer schedule includes Witch Hunts and Popular Culture, a course to which “access to a TV and DVD player is required.”

Finally, while they’re not distance learning courses, Simon Fraser University in Vancouver has a continuing studies department that’s popular with seniors and recent immigrants. This spring they’re advertising So You Want to Be a Critic? — a course whose aim is self-explanatory — and an especially intriguing one-day offering in its Opera Studies department called What Would Opera Be Without Murder?

Some online courses offered at Athabasca University

Athabasca University in Alberta is Canada’s specialist in distance learning, and their vast catalogue abounds in interesting and off-beat course offerings, a few of which are listed below:

Goddess Mythology, Women’s Spirituality, and Ecofeminism: A humanities course that “explores the symbolic significance of female divinity and the impact of its loss on all aspects of Western culture.”
Being Online: The Centre for State and Legal Studies offers this course, which explores questions concerning “ethics on the Web, about the gendered use of technology,” and “ends by examining the transpersonal-how people use the Internet for spiritual purposes.”
Datascapes: Information Aesthetics and Network Culture: An M.A. course that will help students “identify the differences between information, knowledge, and data” and “analyse the impact of the cataclysmic effects of network culture and the increasingly urbanizing trends of aestheticized information.”
History of Popular Music II: Be-bop to Beatles: A companion course to History of Popular Music I: Blues to Big Bands, and a chance for students to study the “stylistic evolution of such musical forms as folk, blues, jazz, country and western, and rock.”
The Folk Music Revival I: Before 1945: If you enjoyed the above, you might want to dig deeper with this course, which will delve into the “role of nationalist and anti-modernist ideology in the Revival,” and “problems of authenticity and class bias in the work of the major collectors.” No word, however, when The Folk Music Revival II: After 1945 will be offered.