RELI 2535 Gender & Religion

Instructor: Dr. Shawna Dolansky

Course Description & Summary
In our daily lives, “gender” and “religion” are concepts that we probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about; rather, these are big ideas that we take for granted, but are each essential to how we think about ourselves and how we unconsciously categorize other people and relate to them. In this course, we’ll not only spend a lot of time thinking about what these terms refer to, but also how religion and gender interact with each other to produce identities in different cultures, places, and time periods.

We will examine the mutual impact of gender and religion on the construction of social identities by offering an historical overview of religious traditions from the perspective of gender analysis. We begin in the ancient world to understand the emergence of the Bible, and its gender constructions, as products of that world. The origins of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from differing interpretations of the Bible also occur in particular historical, cultural, social, and political contexts. These contexts, and their constructions of gender, mutually interact with the biblical text and later scriptures and commentaries in ways that maintain and also change aspects of gendered religious ideals. The story of Adam and Eve, and its many different interpretations over the past 2500 years, will serve as an ongoing case study that exemplifies the ways in which religious and gender ideals intertwine and influence each other.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, various waves of feminism originate within, challenge, and re-define religion and discussions of agency, oppression, and power – as well as concepts of masculinity and femininity – in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and also in the creation and promotion of new religious movements. In addition to in-depth examinations of such changes in Abrahamic religions, we’ll briefly compare interactions of religion and gender in some Asian traditions. We will conclude with a discussion of the pervasiveness of religion-based gender categories in Western “secular” culture, and the ways in which a modern culture that understands itself as secular negotiates questions of religion and gender, especially when they come into conflict with other Western ideals (like multiculturalism) and legal, social, and political issues related to human rights.

Course Objectives – students in this course will learn:
• How academics think about, research, and present scholarly information on theological and religious topics;
• How gender works as a category of analysis in the study of religion;
• How to engage critically with both primary and secondary texts;
• To perceive threads in the history of ideas about gender that are common among certain religions, as well as the ways in which they differ by religion, culture, society, and time period;
• How social identities are informed by religious ideas and produced in an interplay among biology, sexuality, politics, and culture;
• How religious identities are informed by social identities and time-bound perceptions of political realities;
• An historical overview of the formation of certain religions, from their origins to the present day;
• To think about gender analysis as an academic activity separate from politicized or activist liberation movements such as feminism, even as there is an intrinsic mutual relationship within which each draws on insights from the other.

Course Format
This course will be a “blended” course, with some live lectures and discussions as well as some asynchronous activities. Course materials will include primary and secondary source readings (all of which will be available online), films, video clips, podcasts, and online museum tours.

Students will be assessed by a variety of methods which will include short written reflections on films and assigned readings, weekly online quizzes, discussions (both live and via online forum), as well as optional activities such as scavenger hunts, video presentations, and the composition of briefs and policy papers. There will also be a take-home final exam in the form of an essay that brings what you’ve learned this semester to bear on a question of current relevance in the Canadian context.