Thursday, April 4, 2013

feminist spirit
pink zigzag

At the Root of this Longing: Reconciling a Spritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst

WMST 468A Feminist Cultural Studies: Women and Spirituality
syllabus online at:

Professor: Katie King
Office: 2101F Woods HallUniversity of Maryland, College Park 
Office phone: 301.405.7294 (voice mail)

Course Description

Is feminism at odds with religion? How do religion and spirituality intertwine and separate? How do feminists connect to, critique, transform and remember spiritual experience and their places in world religions? What have been women's contributions to religion and spirituality historically? When feminists alter, shape, retell and interpret sacred scriptures, rituals and traditions, what happens? What meanings are kept and what discarded or reunderstood? These are some of the complicated questions we will explore in this course. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the world. How has that affected the course of feminisms here? What does U.S. feminism owe to religious and spiritual communities and histories? It will be through the interdisciplinary methods of feminist cultural studies that we will explore such issues and their connections to contemporary life and politics.

Required Texts (also on reserve at McKeldin Library)

(available at the University Book Center)  Also start looking through the "Religion" and/or "Spirituality" and "Women's" section in each bookstore you go to. Consider making a trip to a local College Park bookstore: Vertigo Books (on Rt. One; 7346 Baltimore Ave.; tel. 301.779.9300).
  • Each Saturday check out Religion in the Metro section of the Washington Post; you can find it online at:
  • You will find a class resource, Linking Perspectives on Contemporary Expressions of Faith, online at:
  • Carol Lee Flinders. 1998. At the Root of this Longing. Harper SanFrancisco
  • Rita M. Gross & Rosemary Radford Ruether. 2001. Religious Feminism and the Future of the Planet. Continuum
  • Arvind Sharma & Katherine K. Young, eds. 1999. Feminism and World Religions. SUNY
  • Rosemary Skinner Keller & Rosemary Radford Ruether, eds. 1995. In Our Own Voices: four centuries of American women's religious writing. Westminster John Knox
  • Debra Nussbaum Cohen. 2001. Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter. Jewish Lights
  • Rosemary Edghill. 1994. Speak Daggers to Her in Bell, Book, and Murder. Forge
  • Starhawk. 1979, 1999. The Spiral Dance. Special 20th Anniversary Ed. Harper SanFrancisco
  • Anita Diamant. 1997. The Red Tent. Picador
  • Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, ed. 1993. Searching the Scriptures: a feminist introduction. Crossroad Herder

    All materials have been ordered for reserve at McKeldin (which doesn't mean they will necessarily be available immediately since some have to be located first). I suggest you be strategic about which books you buy, which you share with other students in class (please do this), and which you read on reserve. You are responsible for readings even if materials ordered for reserve are not yet there. Don't wait until the last minute to make arrangements for access to materials, because they will not all be simply obtainable. You may have to scout around a bit for access to some (especially if you don't buy them) and you will definitely have to coordinate with others in the class.

    Summary of Assignments

    [All together will be 25% grade] DUE: weekly as assigned.
    * What sort of journal?
    All of us will keep journals during the class. They will not be graded, in fact, they will never be turned in and I will never ask to see them. We will be doing different kinds of journal writing in class, and you will be asked to either read from the journal, or to paraphrase some of the things you wrote about. I will pass around some journal exercises for us all to do at home too. Keeping a spiritual journal is one of the activities of the course. It could be in your regular class notebook, but I suggest you create something special to keep it in to honor your journey through the course.
    * What is a spiritual friendship?
    Quaker Trish Roberts says in her pamphlet More Than Equals: "Spiritual friendships are meetings with another person to talk about one's faith life, insights and spiritual discoveries." In this class you need to cultivate a friendship with at least one other person. Perhaps it will be only to help each other with assignments. Or perhaps you'll both choose to engage in this kind of meeting together to discuss spiritual insights and discoveries. I'll be happy to share Quaker pamphlets on spiritual friendship if you want that sort of guidance. Or you can create yourselves whatever kind of connection is meaningful to you two. Perhaps you'll want to share bits from your journals. There will be exercises in class and outside class for which you will need to work with this class friend.
    * What are these ad hoc assignments?
    These are given out a class or two before hand, to be typed and handed in class. These are not graded, but you do get points for them, and points will be deducted if they are late, even with a good excuse. Therefore you must always check with other students to make sure you are aware of any assignments given in class and should try to turn these in on time, or give to someone to turn in for you, if at all possible. Think of them like pop quizzes. The point of these assignments is to keep folks doing the work week by week, coming faithfully to class, and preparing well. You may want to keep copies for yourself to put into your journal.
  • The first ad hoc assignment is a list of your own violated assumptions. (1 pg typed.) Due 4 Sept
  • The second one includes choosing your journal and make a beginning collage in it. Due 6 Sept
  • Another one will be a reflection paper, in which you share writing with your spiritual friend. (2-3 pgs typed; 1-2 pgs of your writing, 1 pg/paragraph of response.) Due 25 Sept
  • Others will be assigned in class on an ad hoc basis. So come to class, find out what's due, keep up with the reading!

    [25% grade] DUE: 23 Oct
    We've come to our questions about women & spirituality from many different journeys. Is there a tradition that calls to you? Perhaps as a curiosity, perhaps as a wound, perhaps as a fear, perhaps as an inspiration, perhaps as a home. Choose two traditions you wish to explore in this class: a comfortable one and one that is in tension with that comfort, in tension in some way that seems important to explore. How can you put these two traditions into dialogue? As Rosemary Reuther says, think of it "as an intercultural journey which does not lend itself to a new synthesis, but rather a development of the ability to partially experience another religious way that can't be synthesized in a new union." This assignment can be done with a partner, perhaps your spiritual friend, although you should each write up a separate report. You can work on analysis together and should edit each other's work. Extra credit for a research visit to a faith community not your own / 6-8 pgs.
    [25% grade] DUE: 20 Nov
    Which feminist understandings, discoveries, transformations, creations of spirituality, faith traditions, religious and spiritual practices, sacred stories, forms of action for social justice speak out to you? Explore one or a grouping of several, engaging in research and perhaps also in other exploratory forms of knowledge and meaning-making. This assignment must be thoroughly grounded in and use course readings with footnotes and bibliography to show how materials are used. It can use creative as well as analytic forms: including personal autobiographical information, art work, dance and movement, writings of all sorts, whatever you can come up with. It may build upon and extend other assignments. It should figure out ways to include web-based information. Extra credit for a research visit to a faith community not your own (and not one you visited for Ass. #2). / 10-15 pgs. of writing; in itself fulfilling assignment or to accompany any additional creative forms.
    [25% grade] DUE: 11 Dec
    A synthetic assignment similar to a take home exam. Requires you to describe the argument of the course, report your experience of the course week by week within that argument, compare this class to other women's studies and interdisciplinary courses, and to analyze the materials of the course that mattered most to you. The assignment also allows you to give feedback about how well the course worked for you and ways it didn't. / 7-8 pgs.

     Reading and Writing Assignments

    This is an intensive reading course, so be sure you think about readings week to week rather than class to class, so that you can plan how to use your time intelligently. If, in an unusual circumstance, you find yourself unable to complete the reading for a particular class, be savvy and choose a piece you will have time for, and know that piece thoroughly. This will enable you to participate in discussion no matter what. Enjoy all this great stuff!


    Thursday 30 August—Introduction to Women's Spirituality and Interreligious Dialogue
    * Robin Deen Carnes & Sally Craig, "Women's Spirituality Today," Sacred Circles (1-13), handed out in class
    * Rita Gross & Rosemary Radford Ruether, "A Dialogue about Dialogue," Religious Feminism (5-21), handed out
    * Take more handouts on "spirituality" for next class reading
    * After class go to McKeldin Reserves and make reading plans
    * Make plans for access to the web; see Katie if you need helpTuesday 4 September—Braided Meanings of Spirituality: histories and ways of thinking
    * Finish both essays from last time, share all handouts with partner
    * Catherine Albanese, Introduction to American Spiritualities (1-15), handed out last class
    * Bil Gilbert, "In Good Spirits," Smithsonian (6/01, 22, 24, 26), handed out last class
    * Pema Chodron, "The Awakened Heart," Shambhala Sun (9/01, 32-37), handed out last class
    DUE: first ad hoc assignment: a list of your own violated assumptions / 1 pg. TYPED
    Thursday 6 September—Journeys, Journals, and Visions
    * Christina Baldwin, Chaps. 1 & 2 in Life's Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest (3-31), handed out
    * Starhawk, Spiral, journal advice: read pages indexed under "Book of Shadows"
    * Begin Flinders, Longing (1-82)
    DUE: second ad hoc assignment: choose your journal and make beginning collage / 1 pg. TYPED
    Tuesday 11 September—Resisting Patriarchy, Reinhabiting the Sacred Feminine
    * Flinders, Longing (83-274)
    Thursday 13 September—Problematizing Power & Women in the Hindu Tradition
    * Finish Flinders, Longing (274-340)
    * In World Religions, Narayanan, "Brimming with Bhakti" (25-77)
    Tuesday 18 September—CANCELLED FOR ROSH HASHANAH
    Thursday 20 September—Insiders, Outsiders and Other's "Definitions of Key Terms"
    * Nayan Shah, "Sexuality, identity and the uses of history," Lotus of Another Color (113-132), handed out
    * Katherine Young, Introduction to World Religions (1-24)
    * In World Religions, Gross, "Revalorization Buddhism" (78-109)


    Tuesday 25 September—Lifestories
    * Start Religious Feminism & the Future of the Planet (1-104)
    DUE: ad hoc assignment: share writing on own roots & routes to dialogue with spiritual friend, turn in this with paragraph of response / 2-3 pg. TYPED; 1-2 writing, 1 responseThursday 27 September—CANCELLED FOR YOM KIPPUR
    Tuesday 2 October—Planetary Futures, Feminist Responses
    * Finish Religious Feminism (107-230)
    Thursday 4 October—Critiquing Religions, Critiquing Feminisms
    * In World Religions, Woo, "Confucianism & Feminism" (110-147)
    * In World Religions, Laughlin & Wong, "Feminism and/in Taoism" (148-178)
    Tuesday 9 October—Multicultural Worlds of Women and Religion
    * Voices: Intro & Chaps. 1 & 2 (1-108)
    Thursday 11 October—Roots of Feminisms in Religious Fundamentals
    * In World Religions, Radford Ruether, "Feminism in World Christianity" (214-247)
    * In World Religions, Hassan, "Feminism in Islam" (248-278)
    Tuesday 16 October—Listening to the Silences, Posing Vital Questions
    * Voices: Chaps. 3 & 4 (109-152)
    * In World Religions, Umansky, "Feminism in Judaism" (179-213)
    Thursday 18 October—Voices of Wisdom, Alternative Communities
    * Voices: Chaps. 8 & 9 (341-423)
    Tuesday 23 October—What I've learned from Dialogue and Exploration
    * Voices: Chap. 10 (425-467)
    DUE: Ass. #2: exploring more than one religious tradition or spirituality / 6-8 pg. TYPED


    Thursday 25 October—Welcoming Everyone
    * Begin Debra Cohen, Welcoming, Foreword, Ackn., Intro, Parts I & II (xi-38)Tuesday 30 October—Raise This Child to a Long Life
    * Finish Welcoming (41-227)
    Thursday 1 November—Transforming the Legacy of The Women's Bible
    * Searching: Preface, Intro, Chaps. 1-3 (ix-63)
    Tuesday 6 November—Us and the World of the First Century BCE
    * Searching: Chaps. 18 & 19 (272-310)
    Thursday 8 November—Rebirth of An Ancient Religion—I MAY BE AT ASA
    * Starhawk, Spiral, Intros, Chaps. 1-4 (ix-101)
    Tuesday 13 November—Making Up Traditions
    * Rosemary Edghill, Speak Daggers to Her
    Thursday 15 November—Creating Religion: Toward the Future
    * Starhawk, Spiral, Chaps. 5-7, 13 (102-153, 214-229) & whatever else you'd like to read
    Tuesday 20 November—Alternative Religious Practices, Histories, Contexts
    * Begin reading The Red Tent, as you have time; read it over Thanksgiving
    DUE: Ass. #3: feminist reconstructions of religions, traditions, spiritualities / 10-15 pgs. of writing TYPED; in itself fulfilling assignment or to accompany any additional creative forms.
    * Read in The Red Tent


    Tuesday 27 November—What Happens Under the Red Tent?
    * Finish The Red TentThursday 29 November—The Truth Lies Elsewhere
    * Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam, Prologue, Intro, Chaps. 7-12 (xv-xxiii, 49-89), on reserve
    Tuesday 4 December—Shifting the Paradigm: whose Mary is this?
    * Searching: Chaps. 8, 21, 22 (117-129, 326-350)
    * "The Gospel of Mary," The Nag Hammadi Library (523-527), on reserve
    * King, "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" in Searching the Scriptures Vol. II: A Feminist Commentary (601-634), on reserve
    Thursday 6 December—The Utterance that cannot be restrained
    * Searching: Chaps. 14, 16, 17 (205-224, 241-271)
    * "The Thunder: Perfect Mind," The Nag Hammadi Library (295-303), on reserve
    * McQuire, "Thunder, Perfect Mind" in Searching the Scriptures Vol. II: A Feminist Commentary (39-54), on reserve
    Tuesday 11 December—Where did this class take me?—LAST CLASS!
    DUE: learning analysis / 7-8 pgs TYPED


    a synthetic evaluation of the course and your place in it; similar to a take-home final exam
    DUE: learning analysis / 7-8 pgs TYPED; compact is good!The learning analysis gives you an opportunity to talk about what the course has meant to you.  It includes:
    (1)  your description of the argument or story of the course.
    Examine the syllabus (course descriptions and requirements, the reading and writing assignments), WWW sites, notes from class, any freewrites, lists and preps for class, imagining this information as elements in an argument about the braided strands of spirituality, women, religion, social justice, transformations of traditions, histories of religions and feminisms.  What is the argument of the course?  What are the parts of this argument, and how do they connect together?  You will be trying to imagine how the course was constructed, and why it was put together in this particular way.  Pay special attention to titles for sections and days in the Reading and Writing Assignment outline. Imagine them as if in a Table of Contents to a book and try to understand the argument of this "book" of the course.
    (2)  put yourself into this story.
    How are you a part of the argument of the course?  What was happening with you at different points in this argument?  What kind of knowledge did you make yourself in your analysis of readings, in your responses to others' work, in your investigations on the Web, and how do the insights you developed connect?  Use the lists you did for class, and your class notes to remember your thoughts, questions, ideas.  How did these change?  What changed them?  What were your contributions to the class?  What effects did you have on the course, on your partners?  How did your responses to other people's work include you in the argument of the class?  What worked for you?  What didn't work for you?  What could have been better? Be sure to account for your absences from class, and talk about what you did to keep up and how you know that you got the stuff you missed.
    (3) put the class into the context of a feminist curriculum.
    How does this course connect with work from other women's studies courses? What are some similarities and differences? How does it allow you to look back over these kinds of courses, and what kind of sense does it help you make of them? Did you get tools from this class that will help you continue your feminist education/politics/life? How, why? What are the ideas for the future this class has helped you envision? What did you learn about your spiritual life? What did you learn about connecting to religion, tradition, spirit, feminism?
    (4)  discuss 4 readings and 2 web sites from the course connecting you to the class.
    Choose readings which meant a lot to you, and web sites of substance that helped you think and connect.  Demonstrate that you've kept up with the reading by showing how widely you've read in the course materials.  How do these readings connect to the argument of the class?  How did they affect you?  What was meaningful and important about them?  What did you learn from them?  How did they change your relationship to the course, to ideas, issues, politics, feelings?  You can talk about how your life was connected to these ideas and feelings.  You can suggest relationships with other readings, other courses, other experiences.
    This is an exercise in synthesizing--putting things together in new relationships, making a whole shape.  It requires imagination.  Have fun with it.  Good luck!

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