Divinity and Femininity

Last week, I received word from my department that a course I proposed, called “Divinity and Femininity: Women’s Religious Lives in Pre-modern China” has been accepted and I get to teach it next year. This is particularly exciting news!

Shrine to Lady Linshui and Child-granting Lady in Tainan, Taiwan

Shrine to Lady Linshui and Child-granting Lady in Tainan, Taiwan

The course abstract:

This course focuses on the religious lives of women in pre-modern China, beginning with the female deities that women may have worshipped and transitioning into the acts of piety that demonstrated their dedication. In translation, we will read popular religious texts, excerpts of novels about women, and scholarship on the goddesses and their worshippers. Throughout this course, we will come back to questions such as: What space did religion provide for women in traditional Chinese society? What unique experiences did women bring to religious devotion, and how did religion address their concerns? How do we examine the relationship between religious practices and social structures?

Rather simply, we’ll spend the first five weeks looking at some of the more prominent female deities: Guanyin, Mazu, Lady Linshui, The Queen Mother of the West, and the Eternal Mother. The other half of the quarter will be spent looking at devotion: acts of piety and what constituted virtuous female behaviour, precious scrolls (my dissertation!), religious perspectives on marriage, childbirth and death, pilgrimages to temples and pilgrimages through hell in literature, and finally devotional acts of the body: embroidering Guanyin with hair and dancing as Guanyin.

What intimidates me, a little, is I’ve yet to teach a content-based course, let alone one I designed myself. I’m planning to teach it in Winter or Spring so that I can sit in on a few courses with my favorite professors to remind me how well-run discussions function.

But what excites me about this is that I get to explore issues related, some directly, some more tangentially, with my dissertation. I already do some of that here on this blog, but the classroom allows for even better discussion, hopefully.

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