Spring 2020

Note: Course times are subject to change, and information on this page may occasionally be incorrect. The official timetable published by the Registrar's Office is the final and correct version of course listings and distributive credits.

First Year Seminars

WGSS 07.18 The Struggle for Liberation: Women, Monasticism, and Buddhism

Within the context of ancient India, where women’s religious roles were defined solely in terms of marriage and motherhood, the Buddhist tradition was revolutionary in allowing women to “go forth from the home to the homeless life”—that is, renounce both marriage and motherhood, shave their heads, take a vow of lifelong celibacy, don androgynous-looking monastic robes, and become fully ordained nuns, following the Buddhist monastic path and living within a community of like-minded women. Yet in spite of this revolutionary move, Buddhism in India was a profoundly patriarchal religious tradition that remained deeply ambivalent about its Order of Nuns—consistently subordinating the nuns to the monks and eventually allowing the nuns’ order to die out, while the Order of Monks continued to flourish. As Buddhism spread to other parts of the world, the legacy of this ambivalence toward women leading a monastic life has resulted in Buddhist nuns occupying a wide variety of different statuses—both official and unofficial—throughout different parts of the Buddhist world.

This First-Year Seminar will examine the relationship between women, monasticism, and Buddhism through an interdisciplinary and transnational perspective. We will begin in ancient India by examining the founding of the Order of Nuns; the monastic lives, spiritual poetry, and struggles of early Buddhist nuns; and the decline and death of the nuns’ order in India. Then we’ll move on to explore a wide range of topics from throughout the Buddhist world—such as the economic and political power of the nuns’ order in parts of East Asia; the death of the nuns’ order and the phenomenon of low-status “unofficial” nuns throughout much of Southeast Asia; the difficult lives of novice nuns in Tibet and the Himalayan region; the increasing phenomenon of Western nuns; and the feminist possibilities (or impossibilities) inherent in Buddhist doctrine. The term will conclude with a sustained look at the contemporary global movement to re-establish the valid ordination lineage for nuns throughout the world—a movement in which the voices arguing “for” and “against” are not always what one might presume them to be. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.

Professor Ohnuma
2 Hour

WGSS 07.19: The New Emily Dickinson: Digital, Queer, and Ecological

Although Emily Dickinson is familiar to many as a poet and has been the subject of two full-lengths films and a TV series in the last few years, the scope of her work and its nature remain obscure. This course will introduce students to the “new” Dickinson that is emerging from the plethora of materialist, feminist, post-modernist, queer, and cultural studies approaches to her work with a particular focus on three recent critical developments in the scholarship: 1) how the tools of the digital humanities have renovated our view of Dickinson’s work, including unsettling just what a Dickinson/poem is; 2) her unusual and often transgressive inhabitations and representations of gender; and 3) her approaches to nature, which some readers view as radically ecocritical. We will use digital archives to reread and reconsider Dickinson’s work and life, with an emphasis of the year 1862, an immensely productive time for Dickinson and the height of the Civil War, also the focus of my year-long weekly blog. Students will research and write about Dickinson’s manuscripts, editions and critical essays about her work, and use digital tools to create and publicize a re-vision of some aspect of Dickinson. Dist: LIT; WCult: W.

Professor Schweitzer
2A Hour

Regular Course offerings

WGSS 16 Contemporary Issues in Feminism

This course explores the theoretical underpinnings of some of the most highly contested issues in society today. We will look at a spectrum of positions on such issues as: questions of difference and equality; women’s health and reproductive rights; identity and identity politics; morality-pornography-violence; eco-feminism-environmentalism; children, family, and human rights; and the representation/performance of femininity/masculinity. Special emphasis will be placed on the connection between theory and practice. Open to all students. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Pofessor Overton
10 Hour

New! WGSS 20.03 Introduction to the Study of Race, Migration, & Sexuality

This course aims to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the ways in which race, migration and sexuality have shaped U.S. culture, social and legal thought, cultural institutions and art practice from the colonial era to the present. Race, migration, and sexuality are experienced differentially across all groups and individuals. They also have distinctive transnational and diasporic histories and practices. This course will focus on the various groups that have comprised the United States in a comparative and decolonial study aligned with the intersectional approach advocated by black feminists. Students will learn about issues of race, migration, and sexuality across time and space, as critical dimensions of the nation’s political and economic structures, within different ethnocultural traditions, and in aesthetic, performance practices. The central object is to weave diverse historical and cultural traditions into a larger synthesis of the meaning of race, migration and sexuality in North American life that is deftly attuned to power in all of its guises and establishmentarian logics. Dist: INT or SOC; WCult: NW.

Professors Lim and Tam
3A Hour

WGSS 24.01/MES 19.03 Arab Feminisms

This course is an introduction to the history of feminism in the Arab world from the 19th century to the present. It examines some of the most important socioeconomic and political issues as well as aesthetic trends that were or continue to be central to feminist activism and cultural production in the region. Throughout the term students will engage with a wide range of primary sources (newspaper articles and op-eds, memoirs, novels, poems, photographs and films) that will help them develop a nuanced and critical understanding of the diverse and dynamic experiences of women in the Arab world. Dist: INT or LIT; WCult: NW.

Professor Morsi
3A Hour

WGSS 31.04/GOVT 20.01 Women and Politics

This is a general course on women in politics. We will examine the role of women as politicians, activists, and voters. The course will examine a wide range of issue areas, including: female attitudes on war and conflict, the reactions of women to different kinds of campaign tactics and policy positions, the differing barriers women face to attaining elected office in different countries, and how the challenges thought to be faced by female political leaders compare with those faced by female business leaders. One key question we will explore concerns whether female politicians are treated differently than male politicians, and how that might affect their strategies for reelection and governance. Open to all students. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Professor D. Brooks
12 Hour

WGSS 32.03 The Constitutional Rights of Women

This course combines the study of U.S. Supreme Court cases that directly affected (and continue to affect) women’s rights with the examination of women’s narratives about their experiences in society before, during and after those landmark decisions. We will weave the stories of women of various races, religions, sexual identities and employment histories, many of whom were unwitting or unexpected plaintiffs in landmark Supreme Court cases, with the Court’s reasoning and intentions in those opinions. We will also examine the evolution and contributions of the female justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and observe how their experiential rhetoric informs the Court’s opinions. Dist: TMV; WCult: CI.

Professor Sargent
12 Hour

WGSS 34.02/AAAS 40 Gender Identities and Politics in Africa

This interdisciplinary course explores the constructions of gender identities in different African socio-cultural contexts. The emphasis is on contemporary Africa, although we will discuss some of the historical framework of these identities. We will read historical accounts of gender in some pre-colonial African societies, investigate the impact of colonialism, and examine gender in some anti-colonial movements. We will also analyze gender in urban and rural contexts, and address such questions as homosexuality and gay rights. Dist: INT; WCult: CI.

Professor Coly
2A Hour

WGSS 37.03/GEOG 24/SOCY 49.22 Social Justice and the City

This course explores issues of social justice and cities in terms of the spatial unevenness of money and power within and among cities, between cities and their hinterlands, and between cities of the world. We will examine how multiple dynamic geographic processes produce spatial and social inequalities that make cities the locus of numerous social justice issues. We will also look at how urban communities and social groups are engaged in working for social change. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Professor Batra
6A Hour

WGSS 37.06/GEOG 80.06/ASCL 70.17 Women in Asian Cities

We live in a time of increasing urbanization and globalization, paralleled with prevailing poverty and uneven access to infrastructure. In this course, we will explore these issues through a focus on women across Asia. We will also examine how politics of race, class, caste, religion, and migration status shape urban experiences for these women. Major thematic areas for this course include migration, informal economies, mobility, culture, and urban nature. The class will draw on academic scholarship, newspaper articles and popular culture to introduce gendered perspectives on cities across Asia including Istanbul, Tehran, Mumbai, Hong Kong, and Manila. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Professor Parikh
2A Hour

New (and Retitled)! WGSS 40.05 Feminist and Queer Performance at the Limit of Action

Note: This course was formerly titled "Asian American Inactivism" in the 2019-2020 ORC.

What counts as feminist and queer activism? This course challenges what we dominantly understand as activism—key to the emergence of feminist and queer theory and ethnic studies. Moving away from political actions centered in these disciplines, such as strikes, protests, and boycotts, this course will turn to visual and performance art works by artists of color, who consider other forms of action that are not overtly visible, resistant, oppositional, agentive, militant, loud, and documentable. Each week, students will examine a performance at the limit of action, including passivity, silence, and endurance, alongside issues related to gender, sexuality, labor, and immigration among others. How might we approach and reconcile with performances that once again reify notions of racialized and gendered bodies as apolitical, passive, submissive, and compliant? Drawing on scholarship within black and women of color feminist criticism, queer theory, critical ethnic studies, Asian American Studies, and performance studies, this course will attune students to the role of aesthetics to interrogate and expand what we typically conceive of as activism, resistance, and survival from racialized, feminized, and queer positions. Dist: ART; WCult: CI.

Professor Chung
10A Hour

WGSS 43.02/REL 31/CLST 11.06 Sex, Celibacy, and the Problem of Purity: Asceticism and the Body in Late Antiquity

Late Antiquity (c. 300-500 C.E.) was a time when Christians struggled to understand how gender, family life, and religion could intermesh. Did virgins get to heaven faster than those who marry? Can a chaste man and woman live together without succumbing to lust? Were men holier than women? What about women who behaved like men? This course examines the changing understanding of the body, marriage, sexuality, and gender within Christianity through reading saints’ lives, letters, polemical essays, and legal texts. Open to all classes. Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

Professor MacEvitt
11 Hour

WGSS 43.06/REL 28.04/MES 19.05 Gender in Islam

“Is Islam sexist?” “What does Islam really say about women?” This course seeks to dismantle the premises of these questions by asking who speaks for Islam, what makes something Islamic, and how are gender and gender roles constructed in Islamic texts and Muslim thought. We will make critical study of the constructions of gender, femininity, masculinity, sexuality, gender relations, marriage and divorce in classical and modern Islamic texts. In asking how Islamic notions of gender are constructed, we will examine both the roles religious texts have played in shaping Muslim life and how Muslim life in its cultural diversity affects readings of religious texts. We will read works of Muslim thought on gender relations in their historical contexts and in relation to one another. Through in-class discussions, critical reading exercises, and short essay assignments, students will strengthen their literacy on global gender issues, study religio-historical ideas on gender, analyze the role of texts in shaping gender in society, and vice versa. Dist: TMV; WCult: NW.

Professor Ayubi
2A Hour

WGSS 51.09/ENGL 54.03 Young Adult Literature

This course explores the genre of young adult fiction in the 20th and 21st centuries. While the course will begin with a brief consideration of the conventions and early history of the genre, most of the course will examine post-1970s (most American) young adult novels. We'll trave the evolution of the genre in relation to ideas of racial innocence, sentimentality, consent, queer childhood, and revolutionary girlhood, and position the novels within historical contexts such as the rise of mass incarceration, settler colonialism, fantasies of post-racial politics, and environmental disaster. At the end of the course, we'll consider how young adult novels have created not just reading but creative communities and explore the kinds of fan productions that have emerged in relation to young adult novels. The course will include critical and creative assignments. Texts may include The Hunger Games; the Harry Potter series; Are You There God, It's Me Margaret; The Outsiders; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing; Vivian Apple at the End of the World; Fangirl; Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe; Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; The Fault in Our Stars; Ship Breaker; Long Division; Monster; Akata Witch; Make Your Home Among Strangers. Dist: LIT; WCult: CI.

Professor Stuelke
2A Hour

WGSS 51.09/ENGL 53.38 Narratives of Un-Belonging: Bad Asians, Queer Texts

What makes an Asian/American “bad” and what makes a text “queer”? How does one shed light and offer insight on the other? How might the “bad” and the “queer” name the refusal and failure to assimilate and align oneself with racial capital, settler colonial logics, and reproductive futurity? How might both terms require us to rethink what narratives of belonging look, feel, and sound like and in turn, become the grounds for alternative solidarities, affiliations, and intimacies across lines of minority difference? To answer these questions, we will engage with primarily contemporary Asian/American works of literature, poetry, film, performance, and art that alters, disrupts, and varies Asian/American narratives of migration, assimilation, and upward mobility. Through these works, we will address historical processes of Asian/American racial, gender, and sexual formation by way of the “bad” and the “queer,” as transformative political and aesthetic categories of inquiry that risk failing to fit in, being wrong, and not belonging. Dist: LIT; WCult: CI.

Professor Kim Lee
2 Hour

WGSS 57.01 Data and Bodies

In this course we will take a multi-modal approach to understanding relationships between “datafication” and human bodies. Today’s “Datafication” is a process of transforming diverse processes, qualities, actions and phenomena into forms that are machine-readable by digital technologies, but the act of turning humans and human bodies into quanta of information has a long history. We will be using art, new media, history, information science, and more to think through the impact that datafication has on how we understand ourselves and others. Particular attention will be paid to the ways in which data has historically been used in racializing and gendering ways, and the role that quantification of people has been integral to the development of the Western nation-state. Dist: SOC.

Professor Wernimont
10A Hour

CANCELED: WGSS 62.04 Women and the Making of Science

Note: This course has been canceled in Spring 2020. 

This seminar course will consider the role of women in the history of science from two perspectives: first, women as the often eroticized objects of scientific inquiry and second, women as scientists or natural philosophers whose work was frequently derided or obscured behind the names of fathers, husbands, brothers, and/or coworkers. We will read primary texts in the anatomical, astronomical, mathematical, and physical sciences, along with contemporary theory on gender, science, and Anglo-American cultures. Please note that the construction of the gender binary and notions of biological race are very much at the fore of this course but are not taken as a ‘natural,’ given, or stable quality. The history of science is HUGE, so we’ll take two areas as focal points for the course: bodies as sites of knowledge and mathematical sciences. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Professor Wernimont
2A Hour

CANCELED: WGSS 65.04 Queer Visual Culture

Note: This course has been canceled in Spring 2020. 

This seminar will look into the cultural history of queer aesthetics. The subjects are mostly moving images (cinema, TV and video), activist performances and some aspects of visual art. The starting-point is the simultaneous 'invention', disease mongering (pathologization) and 'emancipation' of homosexuality in the European fin de siècle and how it is negotiated in educational and feature films. The syllabus moves then to figurations of queerness in popular (and queer) imagination, for instance the 'Drag Queen' or the 'Vampire' with special attention on the AIDS crisis and will finally focus on gender-ambivalence, transgender, and gender-bending performances such Butch-Femme aesthetic or Glam-Rock. A general tension will be observed between 'The Epistemology of the Closet' (Sedgewick), Mainstreaming Queerness and an effort on part of activists to use queer visual culture as a tool for political intervention. Dist: ART: WCult: CI.

Professor Dietze (Visiting Harris Professor, Humboldt University)
6B Hour

New! WGSS 66.01 Times of Crisis

In this course, we will engage in an interdisciplinary study of the topic of "crisis" in its many manifestations: from the erosion of justice, social inequities, and their effects on individuals, families, and communities to the exhilarating moment of transformation all moments of crisis offer.  We will debate and ground systemic analysis and change in the insights offered by critical social and gender-based theory, activism, and the arts. Dist: SOC; WCult: CI.

Professor Martín
3B Hour

NEW Associated Course

FILM 47.28 Queer Cinema

What constitutes queer aesthetics and politics today? How does it relate to fights for LGBTQ rights? And how have these questions been represented on screen? This course will address these questions by introducing students to the history and theory of “Queer Cinema” broadly construed. We will pay particular attention to the aesthetic strategies and political interventions of filmmakers who use film to address broader debates in queer theory and LGBTQ history. Dist: ART; WCult: CI. 

Professor Padmanabhan
2A Hour