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Goddesses, Women and Power in Hinduism


Admission Requirements



What happens when God is a woman? The Goddess—the female form of divinity—is foundational to many of the Hindu religious traditions practiced across the world. This course examines the principle expressions of the theology and ritual worship of the Goddess in Indian history, from the Vedas to the Hindu Epics, to Indian philosophy, Tantric ritual practice and philosophy, and devotional worship, in order to understand how the gendering of divinity affects religious identity as it is embodied, lived, and practiced. Students become familiar with the myths, rituals, and iconography of the major Hindu goddesses, images and roles of women, and the concept Śakti (creative female power), which is integral to the Hindu worldview. Our exploration will span the classics of Hindu Śākta (goddess-oriented) scripture to Tantric ritual practice to the female saint in India, concluding with the entry of the Goddess into the modern world through the Hindu diaspora and Hindutva nationalist movements.

Course objectives

Our readings and discussions, building a historical narrative from early Indian history through the present day, address the following key questions:

  • Consider how the Goddess can be viewed as a feminist or effective model for feminist activism. In what ways does the concept of the Divine Feminine influence the gendered roles and sexual identities of people in contemporary South Asian society?

  • Develop familiarity with key manifestatios and social roles of Hindu Goddesses–e.g. as wife, mother, consort, terrifying destroyer. How are local village Goddesses related to pan-Indian models of the Divine feminine?

  • Gain knowledge about the ritual life and material practices of Hindu traditions through the study of certain forms of Goddess worship–e.g. temple and household-based ritual, internal Tantric visualization, seasonal festivals and massive public events?

  • Reflect critically on the ways that devotion to the Goddess been linked with politics and power in India and beyond, from models of kingship, resistance and protest movements, to the vision of a modern nation.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Students are expected to preapare in-class presentations and thematic questions related tot he assigned readings and take active part in class discussions. At the end of the first block they will prepare written assignments on a particualr key theme/issue. The final paper focuses on a particular Hindu goddess and analyzes aspects of her worship, literary history, and visual representation.

Assessment and weighing

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of the following:

  • Seminar Discussion/Presentation: 30%

  • Written Assignments: 20%

  • Final Exam/Paper: 50%

In order to pass the course, students need a passing mark (“voldoende”, i.e. “5.50” or higher) for the course as a whole.


Students submit a version 1 of their paper. After receiving feedback, they may submit a final version for final grading. This arrangement is a form of ‘resit’. Students are allowed to skip version 1 and submit only a (final) version of their paper for grading (in that case a concise explanation for the grade is provided afterwards).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will be organized.

Reading list

  • John Hawley & Donna Wulf. Devī: Goddesses of India. University of California Press, 1996.

  • Kālidāsa (W.J. Johnson trans.) The Recognition of Śakuntalā: A Play in Seven Acts. Oxford World’s Classics, 2008.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory. General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website

Registration Contract teaching and Exchange

Information for those interested in taking this course in the context of Contract teaching (including taking examinations), e.g. about costs, registration and conditions.

Exchange students having questions regarding registration, may contact the Humanities International Office.