x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Indian university offers students lessons on love

The course will also teach students about sexual violence and gender roles, subjects that have particular resonance in India.

A couple share an umbrella at the sea front in Mumbai. A new course offered by the Presidency University in Kolkata aims to teach students about various aspects of love. Punit Paranjpe / AFP
A couple share an umbrella at the sea front in Mumbai. A new course offered by the Presidency University in Kolkata aims to teach students about various aspects of love. Punit Paranjpe / AFP

NEW DELHI // For centuries humanity has asked the question: “What is love?”

Now, a prestigious Indian university is offering students a chance to learn the answer.

The sociology department at Presidency University in Kolkata will offer the course “Love” as an elective to first-year students, particularly those who are studying more technical subjects such as maths and physics, said Souvik Mondal, an assistant professor of sociology at the university.

The course, to be launched in January, will look at the nuances of the emotion, its interplay with society, history and pop culture.

“We have to produce something interesting for the students,” Mr Mandol said. “If you look at the sociology of love, the emotion, the anthropology of it, these make for an interesting study.”

Sweta Dutta, 21, a third-year history student at the university, said she was excited for students who will be able to take the course.

“It is remarkable that such a radical change is taking place in the curriculum,” Ms Dutta said. “The juniors are in a privileged position. They get to connect what they study in that course with English or Physics or Chemistry. That’s what an interdisciplinary course should be all about.”

The decision to teach Love was part of a curriculum overhaul that started almost three years ago when the university was allowed to chart its own courses, said Malabika Sarkar, the vice chancellor.

The institution opened in 1817 and was known as Hindu College. It was renamed Presidency College in 1855 and placed under the control of the University of Calcutta two years later.

In 2010, the government of West Bengal state granted the university full autonomy, allowing it to create its own curriculum.

Ms Sarkar said she wanted to make courses more relevant and exciting by offering cross-study programmes for students from different faculties.

For the course on love, there will be a comparative study of how love is looked at through western and Eastern pop culture, but the course will focus on human relationships, and how they have evolved.

The course will also teach students about sexual violence and gender roles, subjects that have particular resonance in India.

The country was shaken by days of protests after a young woman who was raped by six men on a moving bus in Delhi in December died from her injuries. The protesters demanded better protection for women and the federal government responded by passing tougher laws to punish violence against women.

Although a number of sociology courses in universities across the world study human behaviour and emotion, not many directly tackle love, said Zaid Al Baset, an assistant professor in the sociology department of St Xavier’s College in Kolkata.

“If they have a narrow notion of love, then it will be a problem. One has to give them a chance and wait and see what happens,” said Mr Al Baset, whose department offers a course on human relationships called Social Interaction and Social Relationships.

Ms Sarkar said it was a well-thought-out sociology course, just with a catchy title .

“There is nothing dramatic about it. It is provocative, but this is a serious course,” Ms Sarkar said. “We wanted to engage the students and it was better than calling it the sociology of human relations. Instead, love, I think is nice.”

Not everyone is buying that love is worth studying.

“We study to get jobs. This is not goal orientated,” said Arkapratim Ghosh, 22, a postgraduate student of economics at Presidency. “This course could have expanded my horizons but it would have been too much of a distraction.”

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae