Saturday, October 27, 2012

Love: The Syllabus

There are plenty of courses out there about love.  A quick search pulls up dozens of syllabi, from any variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.  As I think about my own upcoming class, I've spent some time looking at one particularly ambitious and interesting course, "The Study of Love," which was held at Brown University last year.

The course website includes a blog and a lot of links, as well as a detailed syllabus.  Stepping back for an overview, it looks like the course progressed through a series of ten topics, several of which got more than one week of classes.  (It's a semester course, not a quarter, like one of mine.)  Here's the list:

  1. Attraction and "Courtship" 
  2. Dating and Hook-Up Culture
  3. Falling in Love
  4. The Experience of Love:  Attachment and Love as Madness
  5. Love as a Story
  6. Love in Popular Culture
  7. Love Across Borders
  8. Sex
  9. Love in the Postmodern World
  10. Marriage and Monogamy

Several of the units mix scientific, social-scientific, and humanistic perspectives:  for example, one class day on "The Experience of Love" includes the following readings:

  • “Acute effects of cocaine on human brain activity and emotion” Brieter
  • “Pathological love: impulsivity, personality, and romantic relationship” Sophia et al.
  • “Sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity, sexual impulsivity or what? Toward a theoretical model” Bancroft & Vukadinovic,
  • “Personality characteristics of sexual addicts and pathological gamblers” M Raviv.
  • DH Lawrence, "The Mess of Love"
  • Stendhal, On Love (the famous passage on "crystallization")

All in all, as I say, it's a very ambitious syllabus--one that gets me thinking what my own set of topics might look like.

Several of the topics jump out at me as ones I could see myself doing, and several give me the opposite impression:  here's something I'd probably avoid.  Among the former, I'd count "Love as a Story" (which had readings from Robert Sternberg's book of that name, along with some Joseph Campbell);  "Love in Popular Culture" (songs, Disney movies); "Love Across Borders," and "Love in the Postmodern World" (feat. Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving and Cristina Nehring's recent Vindication of Love--I can think of some other readings I'd slot in here).  "Marriage and Monogamy" appeals to me also as a topic, perhaps because I feel like I've been thinking about it for the past, oh, 30 years or so.  :)

On the other hand, there are topics here that I'd be a bit uncomfortable doing--not for the content per se so much as for my lack of disciplinary knowledge.  The units on dating and hook-up culture, love as madness, and "sex" (as a stand-alone topic, which seems odd to me) fall into this category, although I suspect that at least the first would be of interest to my students.  Maybe if I had a text to work with?

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