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; 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.

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/gender studies, or ethnic stuides 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.

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 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.

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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