This course examines the status of women and the category of gender within in the contemporary world of Hindu Śākta Tantra (esoteric goddess traditions). We will challenge normative assumptions and categories of female practitioners and teachers by examining temple wives, guru mothers, and superwomen gurus. We will look at and discuss the complex nature of practice, ritual space, agency, community, social status, and more.
Special attention in this course will be given to an examination of a third gender—colloquially known as hijṛā in South Asia. Scholarship examining the status of women in this tradition often characterizes adherents using a simple binary of “empowered” and “exploited.” Little has been written on the hijṛās. Collectively we will examine how an overtly simplified lens of empowerment and exploitation is not an accurate representation of the varied and complex roles women and hijṛās perform in the larger world of Hindu Śākta Tantra.
Module 1 — Sacred Transgender Identities
Module 2 — Temple Wives
Module 3 — Guru Mothers
Module 4 — Superwomen Gurus
Students Will Receive:
- 4 Video + Audio lectures (90 min)
- 4 Precorded Q&A sessions (90 min)
- 4 YS Credits
- 12 Hours of CE credit with YA
- Course Syllabus (PDF)
- Weekly Readings (PDF)
- 4 Multiple Choice Quizzes
- Yogic Studies Certificate (PDF)
- Access to the private Community Forum
Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma
Lecturer, Harvard Divinity School
Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur. As a historian, she studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, particularly in Hinduism (Goddess Tantra). As an educator, she is currently a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School. She is on leave from her parent organization, the University of Houston where she is the Instructional Assistant Professor. In the past she has taught at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of Montana, Rice University, and Dalian Neusoft University, China.
There are five forthcoming book projects that Sravana is simultaneously working on: A monograph titled Divinized Divas: Superwomen, Wives, Hijṛās in Hindu Śākta Tantra, a co-written book titled The Serpent's Tale: Kuṇḍalinī and the History of an Experience, two co-edited volumes titled Living Folk Religions and Religious Responses to the Pandemic & Crises: Isolation, Survival, and #Covidchaos, and a co-edited special issue journal Digital Tantra. Her published articles can be found on sravanaspeaks.com.
As a social entrepreneur, she is the co-founder of a nonprofit, Lumen Tree Portal. Sravana invests in building communities with individuals from various faith backgrounds who believe in kindness, compassion, and fulfillment.
"YS 120 is a beautiful and sensitive presentation of the lives of women that inhabit the contemporary world of Sakta Tantra. Dr. Sravana brings forth a unique and deeply nuanced view as a practitioner-scholar, someone who is accepted in this world and can communicate its complexities and challenges to students."
— YS 120 Student
"As a scholar-practitioner, Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma offers a unique perspective. She is a perfect combination of academia and real world experience."
— YS 120 Student
This course is eligible for 12 hours of Continued Education (CE) credits with Yoga Alliance
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