WOMEN AND RELIGION
firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 294-0054
Office Hours: M 2-4, W and by appointment
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
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
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)
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
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.
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.,
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
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.
Week 1: 8/23-27 Defining Our Terms, Establishing a Context for Study
Feminism’s Impact on Religion and Religious Studies, A Brief History
Film: Women Serving Religion
Week 2: 8/30-9/3 Encountering Extraordinary Women
Ross, Rosetta. “Religious Responsibility
and Community Service in the
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
Where Have all the Women Been? The Challenge of Feminist Study of Religion
Comment Paper 2
Week 4: 9/13-17 Answering the Call to Power
UW, Binford, Martha B. “Julia: An East African Diviner,” pp. 3-14.
Baum, Robert. “Alinesitoue: A Diola Woman Prophet in
Comment Paper 3
•First essay exam due, 9/17
Comment Paper 4
UW, Betteridge, Anne. “The Controversial
Vows of Urban Muslim Women in
Mernissi, Fatima. “Women, Saints, and
Comment Paper 5
Week /4-8 Has it Always Been that Way?
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
WWR, Arthur, Rose. “The Wisdom Goddess and the Masculinization of Western Religion,” pp. 24-37.
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
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
Handout, Weaver, Mary Jo. “Who is the Goddess and Where Does She Get Us?”
JFSR Spring, 1989, Vol. 5.1:49-64.
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.
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
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 /15-17 Directions for the Future
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
•Third Essay Exam, due 11/29
•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.
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.
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?