Our PhD degree in Philosophy and Religion with a Concentration in Women's Spirituality is a rigorous transdisciplinary program that prepares students to become thought-leaders and change-makers. We reclaim suppressed knowledge emerging from women and subaltern groups while amplifying the voices of women spiritual leaders, activists, and healers. Our program explores varied spiritual, ecological, and political perspectives rooted in care for the Earth, each other, and the Sacred.

Areas of Scholarship

Our PhD program focuses on deepening students' knowledge in three areas of emphasis:

  • Women and World Religions
  • Feminist and Ecofeminist Philosophies and Activism
  • Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing

The multiple epistemological frameworks emphasized by our faculty and students include transpersonal and embodied ways of knowing. We emphasize womanist, feminist, Indigenous and decolonial lenses. We do not espouse a singular spiritual framework; rather, we support students in exploring their own spiritual perspectives alongside their rigorous study of texts. 


Our doctoral students engage an original and substantive research question for the dissertation that aims to advance the field of women's spirituality. Students use their own voice to make an original contribution to the growing body of knowledge of women's spirituality in relationship to women's studies, philosophy, religion, ethnic studies, and/or the humanities. The dissertation envisions personal and social transformation, and is grounded in the literature and standpoint of women's spirituality and at least one other academic field, such as philosophy, religion, gender and women's studies, or ethnic studies.

Doctoral dissertations provide advanced students with the opportunity to focus the breadth and depth of their understanding on a topic significant to them and the larger world, making an original, creative contribution of knowledge and insight in scholarship.

Select abstracts provided below are included with permission of the author. Links to abstracts or full texts are available depending on copyright. Some links require a university library account. 


  • Our online format draws students from across the U.S. and the world and includes both synchronous and asynchronous virtual clasrooms. 
  • Our PhD degree requires 33 units of coursework, plus the completion of two comprehensive exams, a dissertation proposal, and a dissertation.
  • Our required 6-day residential Fall and Spring Intensives allows students to meet their faculty and peers while enjoying the treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Students can also connect during optional Spring Retreats and end-of-year Commencement Celebrations. 

Applicants to the PhD program must have completed an MA degree prior to enrollment. Students admitted with an MA in a field other than philosophy, religion, women's studies, or women's spirituality may need to take up to 18 supplemental units from the Women's Spirituality curriculum. If some of the masters-level coursework included an examination of gender and/or religion, those courses may count toward the 18 supplemental units.

Course of Study

I. Required Foundation Courses (21 units)

  • Critical and Liberatory Methods of Inquiry (2 units)
  • Building Conscious Allyship (1 unit)
  • Sacred Lineages: Goddesses, Foremothers, and Activists (3 units)
  • Women and World Religions (3 units)
  • Womanist, Feminist, and Decolonial Worldviews (3 units)
  • Women's Spirituality Research Methodologies (3 units)
  • Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing (3 units selected from the curriculum)
  • Feminist and Ecofeminist Philosophy and Activism, select three units from these options:
    • Spiritual Activism and Transformative Social Change (2 units) and Spirit, Compassion and Community Activism (1 unit)
    • Ecofeminist Philosophy and Activism (3 units) 
    • Women Philosophers, Mystics, and Wisdom Teachers (3 units)

II. Areas of Emphasis—6 units
Select three units in each of two of the following areas. Please note that course offerings vary from year to year.

1. Women and World Religions

  • The Spirit and the Flesh: Christianity and Paganism in Comparative Perspective
  • Liberation Dharma: Gender, Buddhism, and Social Justice 
  • Gender, Power, and Spirit in Indigenous Cultures
  • Womanist Theology and Restorative Justice 
  • Return of the Goddess: Literature of the Goddess Spirituality Movement 
  • Goddesses of Prehistory: An Archaeomythology 
  • Lady Wisdom, Hagia Sophia
  • Sacred Women of Africa and the African Diaspora 
  • Women and Tantra
  • Women and World Religions 
  • Thealogy/Theology: Goddess/God, Humanity, Nature, and Ethics
  • Goddess and God Civilization of Ancient Crete

2. Feminist and Eco-feminist Philosophy and Activism

  • Transformative Philosophies of Justice: Local and Global Perspectives
  • Spiritual Responses to Gender-Based Violence
  • Ecological Consciousness and Climate Justice
  • Animal Ethics: Spiritual, Ecological, and Philosophical Perspectives 
  • Holistic Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Freedoms 
  • Teaching to Transform: Practical Strategies for Liberatory Educators 
  • Feminist Perspectives on Transpersonal Psychology 
  • Nature as Sacred Text 
  • Spiritual Activism and Transformative Social Change
  • Eco-feminist Philosophy and Activism
  • Ecologies of Liberation

3. Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing

  • Mirrors: Reflections on Consciousness, Empowerment, and Spirituality
  • Women's Visionary Poetry 
  • Women's Visionary Fiction 
  • Gender, Sacred Sexuality, and Healing 
  • Writing Spiritual Memoir 
  • Curanderismo: Ancestral Spiritual Healing Traditions 
  • Women's Visionary Film: Magic, Myth, and Mystery
  • The Art of Conscious Dreaming 
  • Embodied Healing Traditions 
  • Sacred Women of the African Diaspora: Goddesses, Queens, Priestesses, and Others
  • Orisha: Indigenous Philosophy—Experienced Through Song, Drum, and Dance 
  • Embodying Praise: Sacred Traditions of Movement 
  • Embodied Earth Wisdom: Healing and Percussion in the African Diaspora
  • Kundalini Energy, The Tree of Life, and Cosmic Consciousness
  • Sacred Music of the World: Traditional and Contemporary 
  • Coming Alive: Rosen Method Movement and Bodywork 
  • Peace Is in Our Hands: Rosen Method Bodywork and Movement 
  • The Healing Ecstasy of Sound 
  • Eleusinian Mysteries and Greek Goddess Traditions

III. Electives (6 units)
Select any six units from any course in our program or at CIIS. Students are encouraged to take electives in their area of emphasis. 

IV. Foreign Language Proficiency (noncredit)
Knowledge of a foreign language is highly recommended for all Women's Spirituality PhD students as a demonstration of multicultural awareness in an extremely diverse and pluralistic world. Knowledge of a foreign language is required if, and only if, it is inherent to the research necessary for the dissertation (e.g., to read primary sources in the language in which they were written, rather than depending on translations).

V. Comprehensive Exams (6 units)

  • Comprehensive Exam: Literature Review (3 units)
  • Comprehensive Exam: Advanced Research Methods (3 units)

VI. Culminating Coursework (0.1 units each)

  • Dissertation Proposal Writing (0.1 units). This course may be taken a maximum of three times.
  • Dissertation Seminar (0.1 units)

Course descriptions may be found in the Women's Spirituality section of the Academic Catalog.

Areas of Emphasis

Women and World Religions
We review a variety of lineages that document women's spiritual power and religious experience from the ancient world to the present. The study of women and world religions begins with an examination of the evidence for the transmission of reverence for a dark mother of Africa and expands to all continents of the world. We explore the sacred iconographies and roles of women in African, Native American, Meso-American, South American, Asian/Pacific Islander, old European, and other indigenous, goddess and god spiritual traditions. We examine women's spiritual roles and practices in historical and contemporary expressions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Shinto, and more. Canonical and orthodox religious beliefs are studied alongside the submerged, subterranean, and heretical streams that run beneath the accepted doctrines of established religions an which are found in the folklore, heresies, and everyday rituals of subaltern cultures. We encourage women's spiritual quests, interfaith dialogues, and the study of the sacred feminine or feminine divine of all traditions.

Feminist and Eco-Feminist Philosophy and Activism
Feminist philosophy has long emphasized a relational approach to key philosophical issues; it encourages us to live well and to generate happiness in our own lives and the lives of others. This holistic approach eschews reductionist and mechanistic dualisms to generate a worldview of dynamic interconnectedness in the web of life. Eco-feminist philosophy explores the embodied, embedded, eco-social context of philosophical issues, focusing attention on the emergent field of relational or holistic thought, as well as rational-intuitive thinking. Courses include work with process philosophy and process theology/thealogy, postcolonial womanist-feminist and indigenous worldviews, and literary responses to major ecological and philosophical issues.

Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing
Many elements of language, ritual, and the arts have roots in cultural responses to the elemental powers of the female and the ineffable mysteries of the cosmos. An honoring of the women's mysteries of birth and sexuality, transformation, death and rebirth informs our coursework in ritual, music, dance, literature, painting, and film appreciation. The experiential as well as intellectual study of diverse sacred arts is intended to evoke one's innate creativity, revealing personal and cultural sources of mystical insight, embodied healing, and artistic blossoming.

PhD Learning Outcomes

Goal One: Make an original and substantial contribution to the discipline of women's spirituality
For their dissertations, students will engage with an original and substantive research question that advances the field of women's spirituality. Students will also produce rigorous and critical scholarship that maintains currency with the themes and issues in the field. Additionally, students will demonstrate both independent and collaborative modalities of intellectual and practical work while developing capacities to work with diverse ways of knowing and multiple theoretical frameworks and methodologies, including those, like feminist, womanist, postcolonial, indigenous, queer, and critical, approaches, that contest dominant paradigms and theories.

Goal Two: Demonstrate advanced research skills
Our program prepares students to situate the transdisciplinary scholarship of women's spirituality in relationship to at least one other academic discipline, such as women's studies/gender studies, religion, philosophy, and/or ethnic studies, by engaging the knowledge of primary and secondary texts, voices, themes, and debates in the literature(s) and in the local and global social, spiritual, and political discourses and movements.

Through coursework and dissertation work, students will integrate traditional research/methodological approaches with feminist, embodied, critical, reflective, transpersonal, and/or collaborative community-based approaches. To complement these goals, students will integrate research from multiple spiritual/wisdom traditions, sacred knowledge, scripture, myth, ritual, and praxis, while critically analyzing and evaluating their own and others' standpoints, frameworks/worldviews, and findings. To prepare students to continue their contributions after their dissertation completion, our program emphasizes the importance of demonstrating an ability to communicate one's findings in both scholarly and public arenas, using complex and nuanced language appropriate to the venue.

Goal Three: Demonstrate a commitment to socially relevant scholarship
Students should be able to synthesize and evaluate multiple and diverse philosophies, theologies/thealogies, and theoretical frameworks in the field of women's spirituality inside and outside the classroom; students are thus expected to keep abreast of current advances within the field of women's spirituality and related areas. Through coursework, students will demonstrate an ability to connect their academic inquiry with the real-world concerns of communities outside academia.

Goal Four: Demonstrate transformation of self and society
Students will be prepared to articulate, orally and in writing, personal reflections that exhibit growth in self-awareness (including in socio-political standpoint), emotional intelligence, and spiritual/philosophical/religious development. As is important in any field, students will also be prepared and supported to articulate, orally and in writing, growth in cultural sensitivity/humility, and in awareness of their relationship to other humans and to the rest of the natural world. This will also include demonstrating a complex and critical understanding of diversity and pluralism, including but not limited to diversity of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation; race, ethnicity, nationality, and culture; and ecological, spiritual, and religious identities. Lastly, students will be supported in their ability to critically evaluate multiple perspectives, including interconnected systems of oppression as well as practices of social transformation.

To complement work in an area of emphasis within the program, students will be expected upon completing the program to understand and apply one or more modalities of healing, creative production, and/or spiritual practice, as well as to consciously cultivate a career path toward employment and public praxis for an inspired vocation or calling.

Goal Five: Demonstrate Professional Skill
The Women's Spirituality program helps students develop teaching skills grounded in womanist/feminist and integral pedagogies, to be demonstrated through public presentations of scholarly papers or art work at professional or academic organizations, art exhibits, and other public venues, in a style appropriate to the field or discipline and setting. To ensure that students are prepared to continue contributing to the field of women's spirituality after the dissertation is complete, students will develop a strong ability to articulate ideas in clear academic writing, to be communicated through research projects and/or publishing, and to connect academic studies to grassroots activism, the non-profit sector, and/or other academic venues through community service, internships, workshops, art exhibits, public lectures, and similar events.

Students will be supported in demonstrating leadership and facilitation skills; in facilitating and mediating difficult conversations that emerge through eco-socio-political diversities and/or at public rituals, workshops, and other special events; in developing proficiency in digital research skills as well as visual literacy, used for the presentation of their work; in cultivating good listening skills (online and in the classroom); and in learning to give and receive constructive feedback on academic work. Students will learn to responsibly embody the ethical standards of their profession.

Select Dissertation Titles


Claudia M. Moutray, PhD. "Healing, Empathy, and Conflict Resolution: The Ninth Step Amends Process in Alcoholics Anonymous."


Anna Carmichael, PhD. Modeled After Mary: A Feminist Collaborative Inquiry Exploring Mary As a Heuristic Concept for Women in the Episcopal Church.”

Sandra Saucedo, PhD. “A Narrative Inquiry of the Spiritual and Sexual Metamorphosis of Latina Women Through Migration to the United States.”

Kimberly Gibbons, PhD. “Decoding Delphi: Reconstructing the Technology of Divination.”



Denise Marie Zimmerman, PhD. Body, Soul, Spirit Healing For Those Approaching Death: Narrative Research Into a Sacred Feminine Perspective on End-of-Life Care, A Healing Deathbed Via a Body-Soul-Spirit Positionality Paradigm. 

Francesca Tronetti, PhD. “The Maetreum of Cybele: An Ethnographic Study of a Women's Religious Pagan Community in Palenville, New York.”

Kasia Pereira, PhD. “An Ecofeminist Interspecies Goddess Thealogy: Healing the Relationships between Humans and Other Animals.”

Mensimah Shabazz, PhD. “Traditional Medicine and Healing Practices of the Akan of Ghana: Understanding Akan Spirituality, Mysticism, and Concept of Grace.”



Elisabeth Pauline Sikie, PhD. “A Modern Soul Retrieval: Recovering Female European Wisdom Traditions and a Lost Indigenous Ancestral Consciousness of Deep Relations.”

Loleta B. Collins, PhD. “Scáthach, an Exegetical Study of Iron Age Ireland's Warrior Woman.”



Janice Parker, PhD. “The Ties That Bind: The Ritual Sacrifice of the Erotic Love Goddess, the Sacralization of the Divine Hero, and the Contemporary Culture of Rape; A Mythopoetic Rememberance of the Goddesses Hathor, Aphrodite, and Marilyn Monroe.”

Jeannette Larino Wooden Kiel, PhD."Women's Stories of Ecofeminist Activism and Artistic Expression: A Transdisciplinary Spiritual Feminist Inquiry into Transformative and Spiritual Connections. 

Marcelle Ilona Williams, PhD. “Women’s Ordination in the United States: A Comparative Study of Women’s Struggle in the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” 



Eleni Dedes, PhD. “Oracular Priestesses and Goddesses of Ancient Krete, Delphi, and Dodona.”

Margaret Lynn Mitchell, PhD. “Saint Brigid of Ireland: A Feminist Cultural History of her Abiding Legacy, from the Fifth to the Twenty-First Century.”

Teresa Marbut, PhD. “Restoring a sacred understanding of food: An ecofeminist analysis and spiritual reflection on what has been lost and is being regained.”   

Vanessa Soriano, PhD. “Women’s Spiritual Leadership: The Styles, Practices, and Beliefs of Women’s Leadership in Female-Centric Spiritual Spaces.”



Annette Lyn Williams, PhD. “Our Mysterious Mothers: The Primordial Feminine Power of Aje in the Cosmology, Mythology, and Historical Reality of the West African Yoruba.”

Cristina Rose Smith, PhD. "An Altar to 'Integrative Solidarity': A Mestiza (Xicana, Filipina, and Euro-American) Approach to Creative Texts.”

Isabel Avila Saiter, PhD. “Relational mindfulness in girls and young women: A narrative inquiry on the development of mindfulness and its impact on relational resilience.”

Mary Lydia Aesbischer, PhD. “An organic inquiry into the sacred stories on the virgin of Guadalupe: Narratives of transformation in Latina/Chicana borderland consciousness.”

Pamela Ashkenazy, PhD. “Maternal Bereavement: A Feminist Reconstruction.”

Sara Salazar, PhD. “The Curandera's Daughters: Spirituality, Art, and Activism in the Lives and Works of Cherrie Moraga and Lila Downs.”



Joan Cichon, PhD. “Matriarchy in Minoan Crete: A Perspective from Archaeo-Mythology and Modern Matriarchal Studies.” 

Karen Nelson Villanueva, PhD. "Invoking the Blessings of the Tibetan Buddhist Goddess Tara through Chanting Her Mantra to Overcome Fear.”

Lori Swick, PhD. “Recognizing Women's Initiative in the Development Of Christianity.”

Marion Gail Dumont, PhD. “Reclaiming Women's History in the Region of Marion, Montana through a Hermeneutic of Place and the Stories of Three Individuals: Kau'xuma'nupika, Gail Peters Little, and Arlene Wehr LaPierre.”

Mary Beth Moser, PhD. “The Everyday Spirituality of Women in the Italian Alps: A Trentino American Woman's Search for Spiritual Agency, Folk Wisdom, and Ancestral Values.”

Yalila Espinoza, PhD. “The erotic intelligence of plants: A heuristic inquiry of women's sexual/spiritual experiences with sacred Amazonian plant teachers.”



In Hui Lee, PhD. “Crossing Over Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Haewon Jinhonkut; A Korean Shamanic Ritual for 'Comfort Women' in the Military Sex Slavery by Japan.”

Lisa M. Christie, PhD. "Re-Membering the Cosmological Self: Toward an Ecological-Postmodern Feminist Process Philosophy and Goddess Thealogy." (2012) 

Pairin Jotisakulratana, PhD. “Mothers of All Peoples: Goddesses of Thailand from Prehistory until the Present.”

View a short documentary: "Reviving the Rice Mother."



Anna Joyce, PhD. “The Sixth Sun: The Spiritual Path and Practice of Mexican-American Curanderismo.”

Laura Ann Truxler, PhD. “Priestesses of the Goddess: Prophecy, Poetry, Vision, and Healing among Three 19th Century Mormon Women; A Feminist Cultural and Spiritual Herstory of the Gunn, Morley, Cox, and Tuttle Maternal Lineage, 1823—1915.”

May Elawar, PhD. “The Epistemic Goddess: A Post-Colonial Analysis of Justice through the Methods of Women's Spirituality: A Feminist Case Study on Afghanistan.”

Michelle Herrera, PhD. “Red Earth, Brown Earth: Walking In Two Worlds; the Journey of Indigenous Women in Academia.”

Muhjah Shakir, PhD. “Ancestral Voices of the Living, Rise-up and Claim Your Bird of Passage: An Oral History with Tuskegee-Macon County Women Descendants of the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study.”

Sharon Bigger, PhD. “Caregiving as a rite of passage: Stories of transformation.”



Anastasia Prentiss, PhD. “Sophia Rising: A Modern Woman's Passion Play': An Exploration of Sacred Theatre and Wisdom Literature through a One-Woman Semi-Autobiographical Performance.”

Shahara Lauren E. Godfrey, PhD. “Bearing Witness: An Organic Inquiry Into What Reveals Itself to Seven African American Women Visual Artists Who Gather to Talk Story Through Art.”


Kathleen Brown, PhD. “Writing Our Way Home: A Life History Study of African American Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century Who Grew to Adulthood Enslaved.”

Irene L Plunkett, PhD. "A Sturdy Rose: Spiritual Feminism—A Literary Legacy of Women of the United States, Sixteenth through Twentieth Centuries.”



Viviane Dzyak, PhD. "We Women Walking: Exploring the Voices of Female Pilgrims in Community.”



Julia Rebecca Busby, PhD. “Goddess-focused Spirituality: A Survey of Women's Experiences and Implications for Therapy.”

Dominica S. Lord-Wood, PhD. “Creative expression among women.”



Anne Key, PhD. "Death and the Divine: The Cihuateteo, Goddesses in the Mesoamerican Cosmo-Vision.” 

Charmaine Ehrhart, PhD. “Theory and Techniques: Implementing a Psycho-spiritual Philosophy of Treatment for Women.”



Elizabeth Low Webster Shillington, PhD. “The Moon in Her Womb: An Organic Inquiry Into Women's Stories of Menstruation and Spirituality.”

Jan Isobel Marijaq, PhD. "Patriarchy and Fundamentalism in the Science Fiction of Sheri S. Tepper.”

Mary Joan Koerper, PhD. “Singing over the Bones: Pottery and Writing as Expressions of Soul as Artist. A Work of Creative Nonfiction.”

Nicole Maria Margiasso, PhD. “Wise Women Confront the Bush Doctrine: Perspectives from the Women's Spirituality Movement on the Bush Administration's Foreign Policy in Iraq.”



Delphyne Jodie Platner, PhD. “All Women Are Witches: Women's Stories of Re-awakening to Their Ancestral Memory and Inherently Spiritual Nature.”

Mari Patricia Ziolkowski, PhD. “Fierce Shakti/Fierce Love: A Feminist, Heuristic, Transpersonal Encounter with the Hindu Goddess Kali Ma.”

Shannon Marie Reich, PhD. “Mud Wrestling with Mary: A Personal Exploration into Contemporary Women's Relationships with the Virgin Mary.”



Maiko Yoneyama, PhD. “Mothers’ yearning in modernity: Stories of maternity and spirituality in contemporary Japan.”

Louise M. Pare, PhD. “Moving Between the Worlds She Brings Forth All Things from Within Her Body: Intrinsic Movement as Transformative Spiritual Practice and Expression of Women's Spirituality.”



Gail Williams, PhD. “Making Art for the Spirit: The Intersections of Feminist, Sacred, and Creative Practice.”

Jennifer Colby, PhD. "Transforming Tonantzin/Guadalupe Cultural and Spiritual Identity Politics in Latina and Euro-American Women's Art in San Juan Bautista, California.”



Tricia Anne Grame, PhD. “Life into Art; Art into Life: Transformative Effects of the Female Symbol on a Contemporary Woman Artist.”



Dianne Elkins Jenett, PhD. “Red Rice for Bhagavati/Cooking for Kannaki: An Ethnographic/Organic Inquiry of the Pongala Ritual at Attukal Temple, Kerala, South India.”

Holly Suzanne Reed, PhD. “An Inquiry into the Meaning of Descent and Ascent in Women's Psychological Development: Research Contributing to the Theories of Women's Development.”

Judith Rae Grahn, PhD. “Are Goddesses Metaformic Constructs? An Application of Metaformic Theory to Menarche Celebrations and Goddess Rituals of Kerala and Contiguous States in South India.”

Miri J. Hunter, PhD. "The Queen of Sheba: An Ancient Woman for Modern Times.”

Katarzyna Catherine Rolzinski, PhD. “Seeing Mother Home: An Inquiry into the Experience of Daughters as Caregivers for Their Dying Mothers.”



Della Huber, PhD. “A circle of women in my head and heart: Experiences of women's spirituality in an academic setting.”

Helen Horigan, PhD. “Making sacred space: The art of women's spirituality.”

Lee Gilmore, PhD. “The whore and the holy woman: Ancient and contemporary sacred prostitution.”

Louise Diane Baumgartner, PhD. “Erotic wisdom: The snake as guardian of passion and prophecy.”

Margaret Grove, PhD. “An Iconographic and Mythological Convergence: Gender Motifs in Northern Australia Aboriginal Rock Art.”

Valerie Anne Kack-Brice, PhD. “Silent Goddesses: A study of elder Breton women and Saint Anne.”



Dianne Miller, PhD. “On the priestess path: A personal journey through ritual, research and community service.”



Jeanne pasle-green, PhD. “Healing the mother-daughter wound: Lifting the shadow of motherhood into the light for compassion and forgiveness.”


Questions about Admissions or Our Program?

Admissions Counselor: Danielle Niakaros
dniakaros@ciis.edu, 415.575.6291

Program Coordinator: Violeta V Krasnic
vkrasnic@ciis.edu 415.575.6255

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