Gender and Religion


Religion remains a driving force in world issues, yet it is increasingly misunderstood. One area where this is particularly apparent is the question of gender in religion.

Designed as an active dialogue, this course discusses gender and religion from various perspectives. Through case studies, you will learn how to critically evaluate media reports on religion in the modern world. The course finishes with speakers from different religious traditions discussing their views on modern gender issues. Audience participation is encouraged.

Target audience:
This course is for anyone interested in increasing their knowledge of both gender and religion, and in learning to approach these issues from different perspectives.

Learning objectives:
By the end of this course, you will have:

  • developed an understanding of the complexity of gender issues across religions, and analysed gender theory
  • increased your knowledge of religious traditions with the aim of challenging the boundaries of feminism as well as conceptions of what it means to be religious and gendered
  • critically evaluated media reports involving religion and gender 
  • connected the work of scholarship with popular conceptions of religion.

Course outline:
Each session includes a lecture presentation, group discussion and time for questions.

Session 1: Sex and gender – Evolution and social construction
The first lecture provides an overview of different theoretical approaches to sex and gender; where gender norms stem from; the issue of nature versus nurture; the development of gender dynamics from various perspectives and the role of religion in constructing femininity and masculinity.

Session 2: Religious studies and feminism
This lecture provides an overview of religious studies and how perceptions of various religions in popular discourse reflect the history of the discipline. You will discuss the work of secular feminist scholars and their attitudes towards religion and religious women. Finally, you will look at contextualised experiences of individuals who identify as religious and discuss how these accounts might challenge or confirm the scholarly views covered in the beginning of the lecture.

Session 3: Politics and power
This session touches on the role of men and women in religious traditions and examines power structures. You will look at strategies used by the sexes to maintain the gender hierarchy and/or attain power and equality. Central to this is how religion plays a role in formulating and maintaining patriarchal systems while also balancing the power of the sexes.

Session 4: Sexuality and eroticism
The first half of this lecture addresses how sexuality has been variously interpreted, sanctioned and restrained by religiosity. The second half looks at primary sources from a range of religious traditions to argue that eroticism is often incorporated in human engagement with the Godhead. You will be encouraged to respond with your own perspectives on this argument.

Session 5: Gendered rituals
Many religious rituals have developed to regulate and sanctify the biological body, thus reinforcing gender difference. In this session, you will look at the diverse ways in which the ‘problem’ of the gendered body has been addressed. Material examined in this lecture is divided into two parts: the first looks at rituals related to femininity, the second at practice related to masculinity.

Session 6: Moving forward – Open panel discussion
This lecture features speakers from diverse religious traditions with various views on gender, in order to hold an interfaith dialogue about modern views on gender issues. The list of speakers will be posted before the session and the audience is encouraged to post questions in advance on the online discussion board to address particular issues.

A short break is held halfway through each session, and you are welcome to bring your own refreshments if you wish.

Sophie Florence and Chris Deak are both post-graduate researchers and tutors in the Religious Studies Department at Victoria University. They have differing but complementary approaches and research skills.
Sophie Florence’s research focuses on Buddhism, Indian religions, and religion and sexuality. She has studied Sanskrit at Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu and has spoken on panels in Taiwan and Australia.
Chris Deak’s research interests focus on the cognitive aspects of gender and evolutionary dynamics of gender relations in the religious context. She applies scientific theories and statistical methods to the study of religion.

Relevant Links:
School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies

For further information:
Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140.
Phone 04 463 6556,  Email:

Please note: Courses need a minimum number of enrolments to go ahead. If your course doesn’t reach the number required, we’ll have to cancel it. If this happens, we’ll contact you by phone or email about a week before the scheduled start date and arrange a full refund. Please check your emails regularly.