|Introduction to Theories & Practice in Women's Studies|
(Cross-listed for elective credit with History, Philosophy, and Social Justice Studies)
This course demonstrates how a sense of history is essential for appreciating the integrating role of philosophy and theology across the disciplines. In relation to the interdisciplinary field of women’s studies, we will focus on philosophical continuities and discontinuities with Catholic tradition. Pope John Paul II’s landmark writings on women serve as a reference point for the course as a whole.
Our first reading will be Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929), which has served as a classic frame of reference for developing women’s studies. We will then read some classic authors often referenced in this field of inquiry. We will begin with the concept of woman in Aristotle, and as developed in St. Thomas Aquinas’s Classical-Judeo-Christian synthesis.
We will then look at the first major “feminist” of modern times, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), as preparatory to our taking a close look at John Stuart Mill’s later classic, Subjection of Women. This controversial classic was foundational to the development of the women’s rights movement, and in our postmodern era this classic is still at the center of controversy, especially in relation to social justice in the work place.
Next we will read a selection from Simone de Beauvoir’s 1,000-page classic, The Second Sex, which builds upon Mill’s work in shaping theories and practice in women’s studies. We will see Beauvoir’s own historic influence when we next move from various modern “sameness feminism” schools of thought to postmodern “difference feminism” schools of thought. At this point, we are in a position to deepen understanding of why the writings of Pope John Paul II on the nature of woman, in relation to social justice in particular, contribute in a new way to this field of inquiry.
We will, at the same time, duly weigh and consider the Catholic contemplative tradition as a paradigm that transcends patriarchy and feminism, and as essential to inspiring social action overflowing from contemplation. In the past dismissed by modern secular feminism as faith-based, the contemplative tradition provides a modeling of human experience in practice—for women and men—that is irreducible to gender alone. Hence, this tradition is grabbing attention in our time, both within and beyond the Catholic world.
We will thus see how the present philosophical impasse in feminist theories, an impasse which accrues from long prevailing philosophical dualisms, can indeed be overcome, in our shaping of future culture.
In the second class period, guest lecturers representing various disciplines are often scheduled to contribute to this interdisciplinary course.