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Feminist Theologies

RELG 195
MWF 11:50-1:05
Instructor: Adam Kotsko
Office: Humphrey House 109
Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday, 1:15-2:30; Thursday, 3:00-4:00, or by appointment
Course Description
Religion has always been an important front in the struggle for women’s equality, from the time
of the suffragettes through the “second wave” feminism of the 1960s and 70s all the way to
contemporary “third wave” feminisms. In addition to seeking full participation of women in all
leadership roles within religious institutions, women have sought to critically rework religious
traditions from within, giving rise to the discipline of feminist theology.

This course examines the methods and conclusions of representative feminist theologians from
within the Jewish and Christian traditions, covering traditional doctrines and practices, questions
of biblical interpretation, and contemporary issues such as sexuality and the environment. Along
the way, we try our hands at becoming feminist theologians by critically reflecting on selected
biblical passages from a feminist perspective.

Course Goals
Upon completing this course, students should:
• understand what theology is and what role it has in Judaism and Christianity;
• understand the core convictions of feminism and how those are brought to bear in
feminist theology;
• identify and distinguish among the views of figures who contributed to the development
and spread of feminist theology;
• be able to identify the central themes and arguments of texts from a variety of
perspectives and state them in a clear and sympathetic way in class discussion;
• be able to bring those texts into productive dialogue with one another; and
• be able to formulate criticisms in a way that is attentive to the original author’s intent and

Course Texts

Required textbooks:

• Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology

• Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective
• Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk
• Lisa Isherwood and Elizabeth Stuart, Introducing Body Theology
• Elizabeth Johnson, Women, Earth, and Creator Spirit

In addition, a small number of other essays and biblical selections, marked with (**) in the
schedule, will be made available in the most convenient and appropriate way.

Course Requirements
1. Check your e-mail: E-mail will be the professor’s primary mode of communication
outside of class; all students should check their e-mail at least once a day and preferably
every few hours throughout the day.
2. Readings: The most important element of the course is the readings, where we will
witness first-hand representative attempts to create a feminist version of theology. All
readings should be completed before the class session for which they are listed. In order
to focus your reading, the professor will provide study questions for each reading
assignment, which students should come to class as prepared as possible to answer.
3. Class Participation: Class periods will include lecture elements, but each class period
will include an in-class discussion. Students are expected to arrive in class ready to
discuss the assigned readings in a way that is attentive and accountable to the texts,
providing specific references to back up their points, particularly with reference to the
study questions provided.
4. Reading quizzes: Every two weeks, students will be given a quiz on Moodle over
randomly selected study questions (drawn all sessions since the last quiz). Quizzes will
be graded and are due before the beginning of class on Friday; each student’s lowest quiz
grade will be dropped when determining the final average of all quizzes.
5. Papers: Students will be expected to complete two papers of 4-6 double-spaced pages
over the course of the quarter. These are not research papers; though outside research is
acceptable if desired, they may be based entirely on the class readings. At the same time,
they should go beyond “reflection papers” in drawing explicitly and heavily on those
class readings rather than simply putting forward your own opinions.
a. Paper #1: Using Ruether and Plaskow as representatives of their respective
faiths, compare and contrast Christian and Jewish feminism. What are their
primary criticisms of their religious traditions? What areas do they focus on for
reconstruction? What specific concerns are unique to each author, and where do
they overlap?
b. Paper #2: Develop a paper topic that draws on at least two of the class readings,
one of which must be from the second half of the class. Alternative assignment:
Analyze a biblical book or significant passage from a feminist perspective,
drawing on at least two of the course readings. (In either case, the paper topic
must be approved in advance by the professor; failure to do so will result in the
loss of half a letter grade for this assignment.)
6. Attendance: Attendance is expected, in light of the fact that this is a discussion-heavy
class. While attendance will not be formally tracked, a clear pattern of absenteeism will
result in a reduction in your grade.
7. Academic integrity: All students are expected to fully abide by the Honor Code of
Kalamazoo College. Collaborative study is encouraged, but all submitted work must be
the student’s own.

Grade summary:
• Class participation: 10%
• Reading quizzes: 30%
• Papers: 30% each

Outline of Course and Reading
Week 1: Introduction to feminism and theology
• Monday: Course intro
• Wednesday: Faludi, “American Electra”; Worthen, “Housewives of God”; Milbank,
“Stephen Fry’s Unsexing of Sex” (**)
• Friday: Packet of biblical selections (**)

Week 2: Key themes in Christian feminist theology

• Monday: Ruether, ch. 1
• Wednesday: Ruether, ch. 2 and 3
• Friday: Ruether, ch. 4 and 5; Quiz #1

Week 3: Key themes in Christian feminist theology (cont.)

• Monday: Ruether, chs. 6 and 8
• Wednesday: Ruether, ch. 7
• Friday: Ruether, chs. 9 and 10; The Book of Esther with commentary (**)

Week 4: Key themes in Jewish feminist theology

• Monday: Plaskow, intro, ch. 1
• Wednesday: Plaskow, ch. 2
• Friday: Plaskow, ch. 3; Quiz #2

Week 5: Key themes in Jewish feminist theology (cont.)

• Monday: Plaskow, ch. 4
• Wednesday: Plaskow, ch. 5
• Friday: Plaskow, ch. 6; The Book of Judith with commentary (**)

Week 6: Womanist theology

• Paper #1 due first class session of the week
• Monday: Alice Walker, “Womanist (definition)” (handout); Williams, intro, chs. 1 and 2
• Wednesday: Williams, chs. 3 and 4
• Friday: Williams, ch. 5; Quiz #3

Week 7: Womanist theology (cont.)

• Monday: Williams, ch. 6
• Wednesday: Williams, ch. 7, afterword
• Friday: The Book of Ruth with commentary (**); Kwok, “Finding Ruth a Home” (**)

Week 8: Feminist theology, gender, and queerness

• Monday: Isherwood and Stuart, intro, ch. 1
• Wednesday: Isherwood and Stuart, chs. 2 and 3
• Friday: Isherwood and Stuart, ch 4; Quiz #4

Week 9: Feminist theology, gender, and queerness (cont)

• Monday: Isherwood and Stuart, ch. 5
• Wednesday: Isherwood and Stuart, ch. 6
• Friday: Isherwood and Stuart, ch. 7; Song of Songs with commentary (**)

Week 10: Feminist theology and the environment

• Monday: Johnson, preface, chs. 1 through 3
• Wednesday: Johnson, chs. 4 through 6
• Friday: Genesis 1-3 (**); Ruether, “Kenosis of the Father” and “Postscript”; Quiz #5

Paper #2 due by 5:00pm, Thursday of finals week

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