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Representations of Love and Marriage in African American Literature and Culture

This course explored contemporary representations of love and marriage in African American culture, as well as contextualized the transformations that the institutions of love and marriage have undergone throughout history. The class engaged a variety of texts—including literature, music, films, sermons, and magazine articles—to theorize how these different media construct the institutions of “love” and “marriage.” It explored the continuities, fissures, and contradictions found within and between the media, and used the methodologies and analytical tools that literary and cultural studies, sociology, history, gender and sexuality studies, and African American studies have made available for analyzing texts and cultures. Some of the questions the class returned to throughout the semester were: 

  1. How do the overlapping categories of race, gender, class, ability, and sexuality inform our views about love and marriage? 
  2. What factors compel people to marry, remain single, or “live together”? 
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages (personal and political) of getting married? 
  4. What relationships exist between “love” and “marriage"? 
  5. Should the state and/or church define and regulate who is able to “marry”? 
  6. What alternatives exist to marriage? 
  7. How, if at all, have same-sex unions and gay marriages complicated our understanding of marriage? 

This course (AFAM-201) is taught by Robert Patterson as a Doyle Seminar (small upper-level classes that foster deepened student learning about diversity and difference through research and dialogue).

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Robert Patterson

Department of English, African American Studies

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