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Doctor of Women's Spirituality

The intersection of feminist, religious, philosophical, and indigenous thought

Program Overview

Program Length

4-7 Years

Number of Units




Next Cohort


Related Program

Our Approach

The Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality is a rigorous transdisciplinary online program building students towards thought-leadership and propelling change.

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.

Through your coursework and unique research, you will explore transpersonal and embodied ways of knowing holding womanist, feminist, Indigenous and decolonial lenses.

The program culminates in the creation of a dissertation that hones your unique voice to make an original contribution to the growing body of knowledge of women's spirituality in relation to women's studies, philosophy, religion, ethnic studies, and/or the humanities.

Career Paths

As a doctoral program, all of our students already hold a master’s degree, and many are already situated in a career that is reflected in their dissertation topics. You will have the opportunity to tailor your studies and research to your specific areas of interest, and join our alumni in a wide variety of career options. Additionally, our curriculum includes a course on vocation design to give you the tools for career creation should you like to explore a new direction.

  • Academia, research and education
  • Policy making and consulting 
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • NGOs and nonprofits
  • Creative arts
  • Restorative justice, and many more


The Ph.D. in Women’s Spirituality at CIIS consists of 39.2 units and offers three different areas of emphasis: Women and World Religions; Feminist and Ecofeminist Philosophies and Activism; and Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing.

Students select their emphasis upon entry into the program and follow the coursework outlined in the Course of Study below.

Completion of coursework (33 units) is followed by comprehensive exams (6 units) then the completion of an original and substantive dissertation (0.2-0.5 units) that advances the field of women's spirituality. 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.

All students also participate in our required six-day residential fall intensives which allows students to meet their faculty and peers while enjoying the treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Curriculum Highlights 

PARW 6548 Women and World Religions
This course investigates women in and through the world's religious traditions. We will comparatively look at women's issues, representation, and themes in a variety of cultural and historical contexts through the lenses of the world's major traditions (Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism) as well as lesser known and Indigenous traditions and cultures from around the globe. Topics include the symbolism of women in religious traditions, construction and control of women's bodies (menstruation, sexuality, birth, gender identity), gendered roles in society, social and religious agency and leadership, and social and environmental justice. Going beyond "official" narratives of various religious traditions, this course also focuses on "othered" traditions and perspectives, investigating points of contention and continuity within and among traditions.

PARW 6614 Narratives of the Oppressed: Embodiment, Resistance, and Healing
How do interlocking systems of social oppression affect the personal lives of marginalized individuals and communities? What wisdom has emerged from individuals living in the borderlands where diverse and conflicting identities, geographies, and histories intersect? What cultural practices and healing arts support the development of resilience and the movement from surviving to thriving in individuals and communities experiencing social oppression? Based on narratives exploring the lives and experiences of oppressed and marginalized individuals and communities, this course examines contemporary and historic strategies for survival, resistance, and healing found in the writings, activism, and artistry of contemporary artists, activists, healers, and scholars. We will use memoirs, novels, theoretical essays, personal narratives, and films to explore the effects of overlapping institutionalized oppression—racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, nativism, etc.—on populations of color, women and other oppressed genders, im/migrants, the LGBTQ and queer communities, working-class people, the disabled, and multiracial individuals and families.

PARW 6697 Women’s Sacred Mysteries, Arts, and Healing
Women have served the deities and Spirit in many ways, invoking the divine, celebrating the change of seasons, fostering agricultural rites and urban rituals, stimulating healing, and inspiring the next generations. We learn how women in diverse cultures participate in the Mysteries of life, as priestesses and priests, healers, dancers, praise singers, midwives, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, artists, writers, and actresses of many media. These include sacred song, dance, visual arts, poetry, fiction, theater, and film. We reflect upon the themes that arise from women’s profound rites of passage, including the mysteries of menstruation and conception, sacred sexuality, the sacrament of birth and motherhood, and death/rebirth. We also study various methods and methodologies used in these practices.

  • I. Required Foundation Courses (21 units)

    Critical Thinking and Liberatory Methods

    Building Conscious Allyship

    Sacred Lineages: Goddesses, Foremothers, and Activists

    Women and World Religions

    Womanist, Feminist, and Decolonial Worldviews

    Women's Spirituality Research Methodologies

    Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing

    Feminist and Ecofeminist Philosophy and Activism, select one from these options:

    Spiritual Activism and Transformative Social Change

    Ecofeminist Philosophy and Activism

    Women Philosophers, Mystics, and Wisdom Teachers

    II. Areas of Emphasis (6 units)

    See Emphasis options below.

    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.

    V. Comprehensive Exams (6 units)

    Comprehensive Exam: Literature Review

    Comprehensive Exam: Advanced Research Methods

    VI. Culminating Coursework

    Dissertation Proposal Writing: This course may be taken a maximum of three times. Dissertation Seminar

    Women and World Religions Emphasis 

    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 signs and symbols of reverence for a dark mother of Africa to all continents of the world. We explore sacred iconographies and diverse spiritual roles of women around the world and across time, focusing on elemental powers, sacred mothers, Goddess(es), divine ancestors, and other female deities. We survey women’s spiritual roles, rituals, and leadership in historical and contemporary expressions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; Hinduism; Buddhism; Taoism; Shinto; paganism; contemporary Goddess spirituality; and more. Canonical and orthodox religious beliefs are studied alongside the subterranean, submerged, and heretical streams that run beneath the accepted doctrines of established religions and are found in the folklore, heresies, and everyday rituals of diverse subaltern and colonized/decolonizing cultures. Women’s spiritual quests and Goddess-God interfaith dialogues are encouraged, and the “sacred feminine” of many traditions is reclaimed and honored, through Goddess studies, modern matriarchal studies, women’s spiritual quests, and sacred pilgrimages.

    Feminist and Eco-Feminist Philosophy and Activism Emphasis 

    Feminist philosophy has long emphasized a relational approach to key philosophical issues. This approach seeks to be holistic, moving beyond reductionist and mechanistic, absolute hierarchical dualisms to reconstitute and generate a worldview of dynamic interconnectedness in the web of life. Ecofeminist philosophy explores the embodied, embedded, ecosocial context of philosophical issues, with attention to the evolving field of relational or holistic thought. Courses include topics such as diverse ecological/Indigenous feminisms; spiritual activism and models of justice; animal rights and ethics; multicultural feminist theory; womanist/feminist philosophers, mystics, and wisdom teachers; and process philosophy and process theology/thealogy. We combine feminist and womanist analysis and vision—in regard to social, political, and economic systems—with an engaged spirituality that draws on active compassion to create a more equitable, caring, and sustainable world.

    Women's Mysteries, Sacred Arts, and Healing Emphasis 

    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. Our program includes an emphasis on the embodied wisdom of women and other subaltern populations, and we focus on the vernacular history that preserves the role of women and other oppressed genders who have served as seers, healers, and nurturers of life. Many elements of language, ritual, and the arts have roots in cultural responses to the elemental powers of nature, the ineffable mysteries of the cosmos, and the primal characteristics of the female body. We honor the mysteries of birth, sexuality, death, and rebirth. Courses include modes and powers of healing utilized by women, populations of color, queer peoples, and other subaltern populations from a variety of spiritual, sociocultural, and geographic traditions. Topics include issues in women’s health, healing, and wellness; diverse views on women’s and other marginalized genders’ embodiment and sexualities; and experiential studies in movement and bodywork from a variety of traditions.

Entry Requirements

Successful completion of an M.A. is a requirement for admission to the Ph.D. program. An M.A. degree earned in a related field is preferred, but not required. Students admitted with an M.A. in a field other than philosophy, religion, women's/gender studies, or ethnic studies may need to take up to 9 supplemental units from the Women's Spirituality curriculum. If some of the student's masters-level coursework included an examination of gender and/or religion, those courses may count toward the 9 supplemental units.

  • Online Admissions Application: Begin the application process by submitting an online application and paying the non-refundable $65 application fee.

    Degree Requirement: A bachelor’s and master’s degree (M.A., M.S., or the equivalent) from an accredited college or university.

    Minimum GPA: A GPA of 3.0 or higher in previous coursework is required. However, a GPA below 3.0 does not automatically disqualify an applicant and CIIS will consider a prospective student whose GPA is between 2.0 and 3.0. These individuals are required to submit a GPA Statement and are encouraged to contact our Admissions Team to discuss their options.

    Transcripts: Official transcripts from all accredited academic institutions attended where 7 or more credits have been earned. If transcripts are being mailed to CIIS, they must arrive in their official, sealed envelopes. Transcripts from institutions outside the U.S. or Canada require a foreign credit evaluation through World Education Services (WES) or CIIS will also accept foreign credential evaluations that are in a comprehensive course-by-course format from the current members of the National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES).

    Admissions Essay: A six-page maximum (typed, double-spaced) short-answer essay questions:

    1. What inspires you to apply to the Ph.D. program in Women’s Spirituality?    
    2. What does women’s spirituality mean to you?
    3. What courses or topical areas are you most interested in and why?  
    4. Our program is academically rigorous. What tools have you developed to manage your time, engage in complex projects, and meet deadlines?
    5. Our program centers collaboration and community. What skills and capacities do you bring to learning in community?
    6. We value diversity in identity as well as perspective (for example, race, gender identity, disability, age). Conflicting points of view will emerge in the classroom and community spaces. Tell us about an experience where you encountered conflict in a community setting. How did you navigate this situation? What did you learn from it?
    7. What inner resources have you developed for handling stress, challenges, and disappointments?
    8. Tell us about a time when you had to receive difficult feedback on your academic or professional work. How did you integrate this feedback and grow from this experience?

    Goal Statement: People apply to our program with diverse goals. Many have specific academic or professional goals, while others are focused primarily on personal transformation. Please name your specific goals and how they align with the Women’s Spirituality PhD mission and vision. Describe how your previous or current professional and/or academic work has prepared you for our program. How do you see our curriculum and faculty supporting your goals? Feel free to name specific courses, faculty, or areas of research.

    Academic Writing Sample: A writing sample of eight-to-ten pages (typed, double-spaced) that demonstrates your capacity to think critically and reflectively and demonstrates graduate level writing abilities. A sample that uses outside sources must include proper citations. You may submit copies of previous work, such as a recent academic paper, article, or report that reflects scholarly abilities.

    Two Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation should ideally be from professors who can attest to your scholarly writing and research abilities. If you are not able to obtain two letters from faculty, one of the letters can be from an academic advisor or professional supervisor. Recommenders should use standard business format and include full contact information-name, email, phone number, and mailing address.

    Candidate Selection 

    Successful candidates for admission into the Women's Spirituality doctoral program typically have the following qualifications: 

    • The ability to clearly articulate educational, professional, and research goals
    • The ability to identify a prospective area of specialization and/or dissertation topic that is consistent with the program's mission and resource
    • A vision that is compatible with the program's mission
    • A commitment to personal and social transformation 
    • An ability to think critically and creatively 
    • Respect for a diversity of viewpoints 
    • Sufficient maturity and stability to pursue independent inquiry
    • Scholarly writing skills

Our Department in Action


Online with Jessica Johnson. Focus programs: Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (B.A Completion Program), Bachelor of Science in Psychology (B.S. Completion Program), Women, Gender, Spirituality, and Social Justice (M.A.), Women's Spirituality (Ph.D.).


Online with Jessica Johnson. Focus programs: Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (B.A Completion Program), Bachelor of Science in Psychology (B.S. Completion Program), Women, Gender, Spirituality, and Social Justice (M.A.), Women's Spirituality (Ph.D.).


Come to the Summer Info Fair on June 6, 2024 to ask questions and learn more about CIIS' innovative online and in-person academic programs.

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