Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Each One Teach One"

In late May I decided to join a trip to India planned by Dr. Karen Torjesen, Dean of the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, and Dr. Nita Kumar, professor of history at Claremont McKenna College (see photo).

The School of Religion offers one of two programs in the US for earn a doctorate in Women's Studies in Religion. See

A Master's degree is also offered in Applied Women's Studies.

This trip was the first offering of a one-unit theoretical and practical course in India titled "Each One Teach One: A Course on Gender & Women in India."

Four students working in the doctoral program in Women's Studies and Religion formed the core of the group: Kirsten Gerdes, Deidre Green, Ayat X. Agah, and Tracy Hawkins.

In addition, Karen's sister, Dr. Kristine Laverty, was part of the group. I joined at the last minute, deciding it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

The trip included two days in Delhi, eight days in Varanasi, two days in Lucknow, and two days in Agra.

During the time in Varanasi, we stayed at the guest house associated with the NIRMAN Centre for Postcolonial Education and its model school, Vidyashram - South Point School, in the Nagwa neighborhood of south Varanasi near Assi Ghat.
NIRMAN stands for New Initiatives in Educational Research, Management, and the Arts.

Course description:

This course is meant for nonspecialists in South Asia and for all those who work on issues related to women and gender. The course covers lectures and discussions on representations of women, discourses on gender, and the politics of feminist and other methodologies. The course is located in South Asia and consists equally of ethnographic work with South Asian women to apply some of the theoretical ideas.

Topics to be covered:
(practical, ethnographic work in italics)

1) The discourse of public: private as men: women. How this division is not simply one leading to a particular allotment of power
but how the psychology of women gets shaped by the inside and private; how they imagine that they are certain 'kinds' of beings who can do only certain 'kinds' of things.

2) Insights into how power and agency reside in the private as well, including in domesticity.
The exercise by women of this agency and their articulation of it. The elaboration of their work and leisure.

3) Women who are public figures; how the majority participates in public life as traders, workers, consumers, citizens.
Their separate body language in public and how public space is still constructed as masculine.

4) Mothering as social and cultural reproduction, as a process as central to history as formal education.
The kinds of lessons taught by mothers (or mother-figures) in, respectively, working class and middle class homes.

5) The spaces for change and action for women in religious and ritualist discourse.
The case of Hinduism and the alignment of Hindu women with the power of Hindu goddesses; of Muslim women with the egalitarianism of the Quran.

6) Modernity and globalization as mixed experiences for women.
The changing city and village in India with its global experience and the position of the woman in them.

Reading assignments:

1) Before travel:

Simone de Beauvoir. 1961.
The Second Sex.

Nancy Chodorow. 1978.
The Reproduction of Mothering.

Mary Jacobus. 1995.
First Things: The Maternal Imaginary in Literature, Art, and Psychoanalysis.

Susan Moller Okin. 1991. "Gender, the Public and the Private." In David Held, ed.
Political Theory Today. Stanford University Press.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty. 1988. "Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses."
Feminist Review 30. Pp 49-74.

Sherry Ortner. 1996.
Making Gender: The Politics and Erotics of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

Marilyn Strathern. 1984. "Domesticity and the Denigration of Women" in D. O'Brien and S. Tiffany, eds.
Rethinking Women's Roles: Perspectives from the Pacific. Berkeley. Pp 13-21.

2) During the course:

John Hawley and Donna Wulff, eds. 1982.
The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

______________. Devi: Goddesses of India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1996.

Janaki Nair. 1990. "Uncovering the
zenana: visions of Indian womanhood in Englishwomen's writings, 1813-1940." Journal of Women's History. Vol. 2 (1): pp. 8-34.

Nita Kumar, ed. 1992. Women as Subjects. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

______________. 2007. The Politics of Gender, Community, and Modernities. New Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press.

Gloria Raheja and Ann Gold. 1994.
Listen to the Heron's Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

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