Religious Studies 336:  Autumn 2004
MWF 1-2 pm        119 Science II



Professor Nikki Bado-Fralick                    Office:  423 Catt Hall. 

nikkibf@iastate.edu                             Phone:  294-0054

Office Hours:     M 2-4,  W 11-12pm and by appointment


Course Objectives

This course is a comparative cross-cultural exploration of the complex relationships that exist between women and religious institutions, practices, and communities.  Beginning with the feminist challenge to religious institutions, we will explore the roles and status of women within a number of the world’s religious traditions.  Using historical materials and contemporary case studies, we will discover how religion both limits and empowers women and shapes the ways we think about gender, the body, and the divine.



(FR)              Rita Gross, Feminism and Religion 

(WR)              Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow (eds.), Womanspirit Rising 

(UW)       Nancy Falk and Rita Gross (eds.), Unspoken Worlds:  Women’s Religious Lives

(WWR)       Ursula King (ed.), Women in the World’s Religions


Course Requirements

Grades will be based on ten weekly comment papers, three take home essays, a group project, a research paper, and class participation.  Class participation includes attendance and performance in leading and participating in class discussion.  Students are expected to attend every class and to have completed the required readings prior to class. Lectures are intended to supplement and extend the readings rather than to summarize them. Students with disabilities should request that Disability Resources staff send a SAAR form verifying your disability and specifying any accommodations that you will need.


      Comment Papers                      10%   (10 points)

      Three Take Home Essay Exams               45%   (15 points each)

      Group Project                             10%   (10 points)

      Individual Research Paper                 20%   (20 points)

      Abstract and Annotated Bibliography       10%   (5 points each)

      Class Participation                         5%  (5 points)

      Total                               100%  (100 points)


Grading Scale

The overall course grade is based on the 100 point system.  The scale is as follows:


            100-94            A           76-74       C

            93-90       A-          73-70       C-

            89-87       B+          69-67       D+

            86-84       B           66-64       D

            83-80       B-          63-60       D-

            79-77       C+          59-0        F          


Comment Papers

These are weekly reflections on class readings that are due each Monday, starting with Week 2.  Comments must be typed, double-spaced, 2-3 pages long, and engage the materials in a way that demonstrates that you have read, understood, and thought coherently about them.  You are required to bring two copies of your comments to class each week:  one to hand in and one to share with others in class during discussion. Comment papers are not graded, nor will they be returned to you.  Ten weekly comment papers (out of a possible 12) are required.  No late comments will be accepted without written medical excuse or prior approval.



The exams require critical reading and analysis of assigned materials.  They require you to refer to information presented in lectures and class discussions.  Each exam is no more than 4-5 pages in length and must be typed double-spaced, using normal margins and a 12 point font. Exams are graded for both content and clarity of argument.  In other words, you are graded on how accurately and completely you answer the question as well as on how you present your answer.  Points are deducted for poor organization, lack of coherent argument, and poor grammar and punctuation.  Proofread and spell check your work.  Late essays will be penalized one point per business day, unless you have a written medical excuse or documented family emergency.


Group Project

By the third week, the class will be divided into groups.  Each group will be given a general topic:  for example, a specific religious tradition and/or geographical area (e.g., India, Islam, the U.S., Judaism, etc.).  The group members must think about some aspect or problem of women and religion that they would like to explore—for example, images of women, women’s religious roles, the history of a women’s movement within a religious tradition, women’s rituals, women and ordination, and so forth.  The group as a whole will present its findings to the class.


Research Paper

The paper will be graded on the basis of both content and clarity of argument.  It will be assessed on the quality and organization of materials gathered, including the statement of your problem and thesis; on the consistency of your argument and your use of materials to document your claims and statements; on the clarity of your presentation, and on your general level of effort.  It must be 8-10 pages in length, typed double-spaced, spell checked, and proofed for grammar and punctuation. You may footnote either in accordance with the University of Chicago stylebook, the MLA Handbook, or by the social science method.  The paper must include a bibliography of all sources consulted, including websites (whether or not you have quoted directly from these sources). Plagiarism and cheating will be penalized according to the full extent of University policy. Any student who is suspected of academic misconduct will be referred to the Dean of Students in Judicial Affairs.


In the seventh week of the course, you must turn in an abstract of your individual research paper.  This is worth 5% of your grade.  The abstract should be a concise summary of your research plans, clearly identifying the problem you will be investigating long before the paper is due at the end of the semester.  The abstract must be 1-2 pages in length, double-spaced, spell checked, and proofed for grammar and punctuation.  An annotated bibliography, worth 5%, is due in the eleventh week.  You must include books and journal articles in your bibliography.  I will not accept a paper based exclusively on websites.  Go to the library.  Early.



Class Schedule (Modified as Needed)


Week 1: 8/23-27         Defining Our Terms, Establishing a Context for Study

      Feminism’s Impact on Religion and Religious Studies, A Brief History

Readings:  FR Chapters 1-2, pp. 5-64.

Film:  Women Serving Religion


Week 2: 8/30-9/3        Encountering Extraordinary Women 

Readings: UW, Campbell, Debra.  “The Catholic Earth Mother:  Dorothy Day and Women’s Power in the Church,” pp. 15-24.

UW, Ross, Rosetta.  “Religious Responsibility and Community Service in the U.S. South:        The Activism of Victoria Way DeLee,” pp. 25-42.

UW, Setta, Susan.  “When Christ is a Woman:  Theology and Practice in the Shaker

Tradition,” pp. 264-278


      Comment Paper 1 (always due on Mondays)


Week 3: 9/6-10          The Problem With Women: Androcentrism

9/6   Holiday, no classes

      Where Have all the Women Been?  The Challenge of Feminist Study of Religion

Readings:  FR Chapter 3, pp. 65-104.


Comment Paper 2


Week 4: 9/13-17         Answering the Call to Power

      Readings:  WWR, Mbon, Friday.  “Women in African Traditional Religions,” pp. 7-23.

      UW, Binford, Martha B. “Julia:  An East African Diviner,” pp. 3-14. 

UW, Baum, Robert.  “Alinesitoue:  A Diola Woman Prophet in West Africa,” pp. 179-195.


Comment Paper 3


•First essay exam due, 9/17


Week 5: 9/20-24         No Girls Allowed?

Readings:  FR, Chapter 4, pp. 105-148.


Comment Paper 4


Week 6: 9/27-10/1       Rituals and Devotion in Everyday Life

      Readings:  UW, Jacobson, Doranne.  “Golden Handprints and Red-Painted Feet:  Hindu Childbirth Rituals in Central India,” pp. 83-102.

UW, Betteridge, Anne. “The Controversial Vows of Urban Muslim Women in Iran,” pp. 134-143.

UW, Mernissi, Fatima.  “Women, Saints, and Sanctuaries in Morocco,” pp. 144-156.


Comment Paper 5




Week 7: 10/4-8          Has it Always Been that Way? 

Readings:  FR, Chapter 5, pp. 149-197.

WR, Trible, Phyllis. “Eve and Adam:  Genesis 2-3 Reread,” pp. 74-83.

      Film:  Veiled Revolution


Comment Paper 6


Abstract Due 10/8


Week 8: 10/11-15        Looking to the Past for Clues

Readings: WR, Pagels, Elaine. “What Became of God the Mother?  Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity,” pp. 107-119.

WWR, Arthur, Rose. “The Wisdom Goddess and the Masculinization of Western Religion,” pp. 24-37.

      WR, Schussler Fiorenza, Elizabeth. “Women in the Early Christian Movement,” pp. 84-92.

WWR, Via, E. Jane.  “Women in the Gospel of Luke,” pp. 38-55.


      Comment Paper 7  


Week 9: 10/18-22        Innovation and Tradition

      WR, Plaskow, Judith.  “The Coming of Lillith:  Toward a Feminist Theology,” pp. 198-209.

UW, Neudel, Marian.  “Innovation and Tradition in a Contemporary Midwestern Jewish Congregation,” pp. 221-232.

WWR, Quebedeaux, Richard.  “We’re on our Way, Lord!: The Rise of ‘Evangelical Feminism’ in Modern American Christianity,” pp. 129-144.

Film:  Half the Kingdom


Comment Paper 8


Week 10: 10/25-29       The Rebirth of the Great Mother

Readings: WR, Stone, Merlin.  “When God Was a Woman,” pp. 120-130.

Handout, Motz, Lotte.  1997.  The Faces of the Goddess, Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2, pp. 1-38.  Oxford University Press.  (280 pp.)

Handout, Hackett, JoAnn.  “Can a Sexist Model Liberate Us? Ancient Near Eastern ‘Fertility’ Goddesses.  JFSR Spring, 1989, Vol. 5.1:65-76.


Comment Paper 9


•Second essay exam due, 10/29


Week 11: 11/1-5   Do Women “Need” the Goddess?

      Readings: WR, Christ, Carol.  “Why Women Need the Goddess,” pp. 273-287.     

Handout, Weaver, Mary Jo.  “Who is the Goddess and Where Does She Get Us?”

JFSR Spring, 1989, Vol. 5.1:49-64.

Handout, Erndl, Kathleen.  1997.  “The Goddess and Women’s Power:  A Hindu Case Study,” pp. 17-38 in Women and Goddess Traditions in Antiquity and Today, ed. by Karen L. King.  Augsburg Fortress Press.  (450 pp.)

WWR, Bancroft, Anne.  “Women in Buddhism,” pp. 81-106.


      Comment Paper 10


•Annotated Bibliography due 11/5


Week 12: 11/8-12        Stirring the Cauldron: Women’s Spirituality and Wicca

      Readings:  WR, Starhawk.  “Witchcraft and Women’s Culture,” pp. 259-268.

      Handout, Bado-Fralick, Nikki.  “Stirring the Cauldron:  The Impact of the Women’s Movement on the Old Religion.”

      Handout, Goldenberg, Naomi.  1979.  “Why Witches Scare Scholars,” pp. 109-114 of Changing of the Gods:  Feminism and the End of Traditional Religions.  Beacon. (152 pp.)

      Handout, Bado-Fralick, Nikki.  “Why Witches Still Scare Scholars.”


      Comment Paper 11


Week  13: 11/15-17            Directions for the Future

Readings: UW, Marcos, Sylvia.  “Women’s Religious Space in Mexico,” pp. 253-263.

UW, Brown, Karen McCarthy.  “Mama Lola and the Ezilis:  Themes of Mothering and Loving in

Haitian Vodou,” pp. 279-289.

WWR, King, Ursula. “Goddesses, Witches, Androgyny and Beyond? Feminism and the Transformation of Religious Consciousness,” pp. 201-219.

Film:  Goddess Remembered


      Comment Paper 12


Week 14: 11/22-26       Break Week, No Classes


Week 15: 11/29-12/3     Group Presentations


•Third Essay Exam, due 11/29


Week 16: 12/6-10        Group Presentations


•Individual Papers, due 12/6


12/13 I will be in my office from 11-12 for discussion or for you to pick up any essays, exams, or other assignments that you may not have already retrieved.


Essay Exam #1     Due September 17


Statement of the Problem:


According to Rita Gross, there are two barriers to the study of women and religion:  the belief that there is little or no information about women and religion, and the belief that what women do is unimportant.  Compounding our problem is the fact that the historical study of religion is beset by four levels of androcentrism.


In your essay, tell me what are the levels of androcentrism that make the study of religions difficult.  How can we as scholars employ an androgynous methodology to overcome these barriers and problems and arrive at accurate and usable scholarship in the study of religions?  Use one of the examples from the book, or one we talked about in class, to illustrate how a religious tradition or practice might be better understood with more accurate scholarship that includes integrated information about women.



Essay Exam #2     Due October 29


In 1977 Carol Christ coined the terms “revolutionary” and “reformist” to describe what she saw as two essentially different approaches to the feminist study of women and religions.


First, what do the two terms mean in regards to the study of religions?  How do the revolutionaries and the reformists seem to differ from one another?  Give examples of each “camp” from your readings.


Second, let’s problematize  this distinction, which seems far too facile.  Aside from an agreement over the negativity of patriarchal institutions and a desire for them to end, do revolutionaries and reformists have anything in common with one another?  In what ways are their methodologies similar?  In what ways do they face similar problems?  Give examples from your readings.



Essay Exam #3     Due November 29


We have read several articles dealing with the myth of the Great Goddess and why modern women “need” the Goddess.  Some of these articles on ancient Goddesses contain numerous problems, both in terms of historical accuracy and underlying premises.  Using examples from our readings and class discussions, what are some of these underlying problems? What’s wrong with the premises of some of our authors? How can fieldwork and research into the religious practices of women get us a little closer to a more realistic understanding of what living Goddess cultures may add to women’s religious roles?


Finally, reflect for a moment on Rita Gross’ statement about scholarship needing to be both accurate and usable.  Is “inaccurate scholarship” scholarship?  Is it usable?  By whom? How so?  How would questions of accuracy affect our practices of religions?