Program Requirements

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, 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 (36 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 and spring intensives which allows students to meet their faculty and peers while enjoying the treasures of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Applicants to the Ph.D. program must have completed an M.A. prior to enrollment. Students admitted with an M.A. 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 student's masters-level coursework included an examination of gender and/or religion, those courses may count toward the 18 supplemental units.

Foreign Language Proficiency 
Knowledge of a foreign language is highly recommended for all Women's Spirituality Ph.D. 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).

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)
  • 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

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 (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)

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 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 and 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 Emphasis

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 Emphasis

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.

Curriculum Highlights 

PARW 6548 Women and World Religions (3 units) 
Beginning with the spiritual traditions of Mother Africa, we trace the cultural evolution of religions and the spiritual roles of women around the world, with an emphasis on women’s roles in the rites of passage of birth, marriage, and death/rebirth; sacred stories/scriptures about women; and women’s spiritual leadership. The course has three modules: I. Women and World Religions in Historical Perspective: Nature-Embedded Indigenous and Goddess/God Traditions. II. Abrahamic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. III. Asian Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto. 

PARW 6614 Narratives of the Oppressed: Embodiment, Resistance, and Healing (2 units) 
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 LGBTQIQ and queer communities, working-class people, the disabled, and multiracial individuals and families.

PARW 6697 Women’s Sacred Mysteries, Arts, and Healing (3 units)  
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.

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