Admission & Financial Aid

Admission & Financial Aid


Regulations & Requirements

Regulations & Requirements


Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses


Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies

Professors Barale, Basu, Griffiths (Chair), Martin, and Saxton‡; Assistant Professors Henderson, Polk, Sadjadi, and Shandilya; Lecturer Bergoffen.

‡On leave spring semester 2015-16.

Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies is an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural exploration of sexuality, gender, and their relationship. How are these categories constructed, understood, and reproduced in contemporary and past societies?  SWAG is also an inquiry specifically into women’s material, cultural, and economic productions, their self-descriptions, and their collective undertakings.

Major Program. Students majoring in SWAG are required to take a minimum of nine courses, including SWAG 100, 200 and 300. The remaining electives may be chosen from SWAG offerings. Other Amherst or Five College courses that address issues of sexuality, women, or gender may be counted toward the major only if approved by the SWAG Department. Starting with students entering in the fall of 2015, at most three of the six elective courses may be taken outside of the SWAG Department.

Senior majors not writing theses will satisfy the requirement for comprehensive assessment of the major  by 1) assembling a portfolio consisting of three papers written in courses for the SWAGS major; 2)  writing a five-page reflective essay on sexuality, women, and gender. The portfolio and its accompanying essay are to be submitted during the first week of April. Instructions will be distributed approximately two weeks before the due date.

Department Honors Program. In addition to the courses required for the major, students accepted as honors candidates will elect either SWAG 498D and 499 or 498 and 499D, depending on which option better accommodates the disciplines in the thesis project. The D designation indicates that a course offers double credit.

100 The Cross-Cultural Construction of Gender

This course introduces students to the issues involved in the social and historical construction of gender and gender roles from a cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspective. Topics change from year-to-year and have included women and social change; male and female sexualities including homosexualities; the uses and limits of biology in explaining human gender differences; women’s participation in production and reproduction; the relationship among gender, race and class as intertwining oppressions; women, men and globalization; and gender and warfare.

Fall semester. Professors Saxton and Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

105 Women, Gender and Popular Culture

In this course, students will interrogate the precarious relationship between political and popular culture. As we study how politics has successfully deployed popular culture as an ideological tool, we will also consider how politics has overburdened popular culture as a vehicle of change. These broad issues will serve as our framework for analyzing black femininity, womanhood, and the efficacy of the word “feminism” in the post-Civil Rights era. We will think critically about the construction of gender, race, sexuality, and class identity as well as the historical and sociopolitical context for cultural icons and phenomena. Students will read cultural theory, essays, fiction as well as listen to, and watch various forms of media. Expectations include three writing/visual projects as well as a group presentation.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2019, Spring 2021

106 Realism

(See ENGL 112)

111 Having Arguments

(See ENGL 111)

113 Art From the Realm of Dreams

(See ARHA 146)

114 Intersections among American Women

This course explores the relationships among diverse American women between 1880 and 1930.  Intersections will serve as a conceptual framework for considering the ways women forged coalitions and marked distinctions along ethnic, racial, sexual, and class lines.  The nation changed significantly during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and women responded to these changes variously.  A vocal group campaigned for suffrage, even as some women fought against it.  Reformers opened settlement houses and championed social work, while working-class women critiqued reformist ideologies.  Some women sought personal independence through contraception, while others found it in same-sex communities. The course will engage with a range of materials, including fiction, memoir, historical documents, and photography; readings will include selections of literary criticism, ethnic and racial studies, and social history.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Bergoffen.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2016

115 Equality and Violence

(Offered as SWAG 115 and ARHA 115.) This Inside/Out course will meet every week at the Hampshire County Jail, and students will study how inequality of various kinds is linked to violence and sexual assault and also examine social art practice and its relation to issues of power.  Readings and discussions will focus on gender, racial, and class inequalities in society and examples of contemporary art work which address them. Inside and outside students will pursue and refine themes through interviews with one another and in art projects and individual essays.  They will produce a final project in a public forum to be decided on by the students for an audience of incarcerated and Amherst students. Students will create an accompanying  publication of text and images that enlarges on their debates and discussions. The course will be conducted on the Inside/Out model, and authorities from the Jail will collaborate with participants in determining the nature of permitted research, the format, and the timing of the final project.

Not open to first-year students.  Limited to 12 students.  Interview with the instructor prior to admission is required.  Fall semester.  Professor Saxton and Visiting Artist-In-Residence Ewald.


2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015

123 Greek Civilization

(See CLAS 123)

138 Greek Drama

(See CLAS 138)

200 Feminist Theory

In this course we will investigate contemporary feminist thought from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We will focus on key issues in feminist theory, such as the sex/gender debate, sexual desire and the body, the political economy of gender, the creation of the "queer" as subject, and the construction of masculinity, among others. This course aims also to think through the ways in which these concerns intersect with issues of race, class, the environment and the nation.

Open to first-year students who have taken SWAG 100 and upper-class students. Spring semester. Professors Sadjadi and Shandilya.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

202 Black Women's Narratives and Counternarratives: Love and the Family

(Offered as SWAG 202  and BLST 242 [US].)  Why do love and courtship continue to be central concerns in black women's literature and contemporary black popular fiction?  Are these thematic issues representative of apolitical yearnings or an allegory for political subjectivity?  Drawing on a wide range of texts, we will examine the chasm between the "popular" and the literary, as we uncover how representations of love and courtship vary in both genres.  Surveying the growing discourse in media outlets such as CNN and the Washington Post regarding the "crisis" of the single black woman, students will analyze the contentious public debates regarding black women and love and connect them to black women's literature and black feminist literary theory.  Authors covered will range from Nella Larsen to Terry McMillan and topics will include gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Limited to 20 students.  Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Omitted 2015-16.  Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2016

203 Women Writers of Africa and the African Diaspora

(See BLST 203)

206 Women and Art in Early Modern Europe

(See ARHA 284)

207 The Home and the World: Women and Gender in South Asia

(Offered as SWAG 207, ASLC 207, and POSC 207.) This course will study South Asian women and gender through key texts in film, literature, history and politics. How did colonialism and nationalism challenge the distinctions between the “home” and the “world” and bring about partitions which splintered once shared cultural practices? What consequences did this have for postcolonial politics? How do ethnic conflicts, religious nationalisms and state repression challenge conceptions of home? How have migrations, globalization and diasporas complicated relations between the home and the world? Texts will include Salman Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown, Ram Gopal Varma’s epic film Sarkar, and Partha Chatterjee’s The Nation and Its Fragments.

Spring semester. Professors Shandilya and Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2019

208 Black Feminist Literary Traditions

(Offered as SWAG 208, BLST 345 [US], ENGL 276, and FAMS 379.) Reading the work of black feminist literary theorists and black women writers, we will examine the construction of black female identity in American literature, with a specific focus on how black women writers negotiate race, gender, sexuality, and class in their work. In addition to reading novels, literary criticism, book reviews, and watching documentaries, we will examine the stakes of adaptation and mediation for black female-authored texts. Students will watch and analyze the film and television adaptations of The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005) as well as examine how Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970) was mediated and interpreted by Oprah Winfrey’s book club and daytime talk show. Authors will include Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Gloria Naylor.  Writing Attentive. Expectations include three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.

Limited to 20 students. Priority given to those students who attend the first day of the class. Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Fall 2021

210 Anthropology of Sexuality

(Offered as SWAG 210 and ANTH 210.) This course draws on anthropological literature to study the socio-cultural making of human sexuality and its variations. We will critically examine theories of sexuality as a domain of human experience and locate sexual acts, desires and relations in particular historical and cultural contexts. The course offers analytical tools to understand and evaluate different methods and approaches to the study of human sexuality.  We will examine the relation of sex to kinship/family, to reproduction and to romance. As we read about the bodily experience of sexual pleasure, we will explore how sexual taboos, norms and morality develop in various cultures and why sex acquires explosive political dimensions during certain historical periods. The course will explore the gendered and racial dimensions of human sexual experience in the context of class, nation and empire. How do class divisions produce different sexual cultures? What economies of sex are involved in sex work, marriage and immigration? What has been the role of sexuality in projects of nation building and in colonial encounters? When, where and how did sexuality become a matter of identity?  In addition to a focus on contemporary ethnographic studies of sexuality in various parts of the world, we will read theoretical and historical texts that have been influential in shaping the anthropological approaches to sexuality. We will also briefly address scientific theories of sexuality.  Two meetings per week.

Fall semester. Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015

219 Between Facts and Norms:  Liberalism and the Case of Islam

(See LJST 219)

224 The Century of Sex: Gender and Sexual Politics in Modern Europe

(See HIST 224)

237 Gender and Work

(See SOCI 237)

241 Fact or Fiction: Representations of Latina and Latin American Women in Film.

(See SPAN 240)

271 Reading Popular Culture:  Girl Power

(See ENGL 271)

279 Global Women's Literature

(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 202, and ENGL 279.) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s My Son’s Story, Indian novelist Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, and Caribbean author Shani Motoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night

Fall semester. Professor Shandilya.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2023

300 Ideas and Methods in the Study of Gender

This seminar will explore the influence of gender studies and of feminism on our research questions, methods and the way we situate ourselves in relationship to our scholarship. For example, how can we employ ethnography, textual analysis, empirical data and archival sources in studying the complex ties between the local and the global, and the national and the transnational? Which ideas and methods are best suited to analyzing the varied forms of women’s resistance across ideological, class, racial and national differences? Our major goal will be to foster students' critical skills as inter-disciplinary, cross cultural writers and researchers. This course counts as a proseminar designed for juniors and seniors in SWAGS.

Requisite: SWAG 100 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Basu.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016

310 Witches, Vampires and Other Monsters

(See ARHA 385)

328 Science and Sexuality

This seminar explores the role of science in the understanding and making of human sexuality.  The notion of “sexuality”--its emergence and its recent history--has an intimate relation to biology, medicine and psychology.  In this course we explore the historical emergence of the scientific model of sexuality and the challenges to this model posed from other worldviews and social forces, mainly religion, social sciences, and political movements. We examine how sex has intersected with race and nationality in the medical model (for instance, in the notion of degeneration), and we look closely at the conceptualization of feminine and masculine sexual difference.  We briefly address studies of animal models for human sexuality, and we examine in more depth case histories of “perversion,” venereal disease, orgasm and sex hormones. We also compare contemporary biological explanations of sexuality with the nineteenth-century ones, for instance, the notion of the “gay gene” as compared to the hereditary model of “sexual inversion.” Course readings include historical and contemporary sexological and biological texts (Darwin, Freud, Kinsey, etc.), their critiques, and contemporary literature in science studies, including feminist and queer studies of science. This seminar requires active participation, reading an array of diverse and interdisciplinary texts and preparing research-based papers and presentations.

Limited to 15 students.  Spring semester.  Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016

329 Bad Black Women

(Offered as SWAG 329 and BLST 377 [US].) History has long valorized passive, obedient, and long-suffering black women alongside aggressive and outspoken black male leaders and activists.  This course provides an alternative narrative to this misrepresentation, as we will explore how “bad” is defined by one’s race, gender, class, and sexuality as well as how black women have transgressed the boundaries of what is means to be “good” in US society. We will use an interdisciplinary perspective to examine why black women have used covert and explicit maneuvers to challenge the stereotypical “respectable” or “good” black woman and the various risks and rewards they incur for their “deviance.” In addition to analyzing black women’s literature, we will study black women’s political activism, sex work, and rising incarceration as well as black women’s nonconformity in art, poetry, music, dance, and film. Students should be aware that part of this course is “immersive” and consequently, students will participate in a master class that will explore how dance operates as a way to defy race, class, and gender norms.

Open to first-year students with consent of the instructor. Priority given to students who attend the first day of class. Writing Attentive. Limited to 20 students.  Expectations include a master dance class, three writing projects, a group presentation, and various in-class assignments.  Fall semester. Professor Henderson.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021

330 Black Sexualities

(See BLST 236)

335 Gender: An Anthropological Perspective

(See ANTH 335)

339 Early Women Writers

(See ENGL 339)

342 Women of Ill Repute: Prostitutes in Nineteenth-Century French Literature

(See FREN 342)

347 Race, Sex, and Gender in the U.S. Military

(See BLST 347)

362 The Politics of Gender in the Middle East

(See HIST 397)

374 To Sculpt a Modern Woman's Life

(See ARHA 374)

406 Historical Perspectives on Women's Human Rights

(See HIST 406)

410 Epidemics and Society: AIDS and Ebola

This seminar explores the AIDS and Ebola epidemics in the U.S. and globally, and the role of socio-economic, political and biological factors in the shaping of the epidemics. The course encourages students to think about AIDS, Ebola and other diseases politically, while remaining attentive to their bodily and health effects. We will engage with AIDS and Ebola on various scales, from the virus and immune cells to the transnational pharmaceutical industry, and from physical human contact to the political economies of health care. We will examine the racialization of the epidemics and study the processes by which some groups of people become more vulnerable to the epidemics than others. We will also explore the gender dimension of these epidemics, particularly the AIDS epidemic, from intimate sexual relations and power dynamics involved in negotiations over condom use, to global processes such as the feminization of poverty, the neoliberal economic restructuring of health systems, and the politics of scientific and medical research on AIDS. In addition, we will examine the role of social movements in responding to these epidemics.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Sadjadi.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2013, Fall 2015

467 Social Movements, Civil Society and Democracy in India

(See POSC 467)

469 South Asian Feminist Cinema

(Offered as SWAG 469, ASLC  452 [SA], and FAMS 322.)  How do we define the word “feminism”? Can the term be used to define cinematic texts outside the Euro-American world? In this course we will study a range of issues that have been integral to feminist theory--the body, domesticity, same sex desire, gendered constructions of the nation, feminist utopias and dystopias--through a range of South Asian cinematic texts. Through our viewings and readings we will consider whether the term “feminist” can be applied to these texts, and we will experiment with new theoretical lenses for exploring these films. Films will range from Satyajit Ray’s classic masterpiece Charulata to Gurinder Chadha’s trendy diasporic film, Bend It Like Beckham. Attendance for screenings on Monday is compulsory.

Limited to 20 students.  Fall semester.  Professor Shandilya.

2023-24: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Spring 2019

471 Corporeal States:  Body, Nation, Text in Modern African Literature

(See ENGL 471)

490 Special Topics

Independent Reading Courses.

Fall and spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2023, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 498D, 499, 499D Senior Departmental Honors

Open to senior majors in Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies who have received departmental approval.

Spring semester.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2025

Introductory Courses

121 LGBT Perspectives in Popular Music

(See MUSI 121)

Departmental Courses

239 Women in Judaism

(See RELI 261)

Panoramic Introductions

232 Strange Girls: Spanish Women's Voices

(See SPAN 232)

Nation-Specific Studies

245 Latina Stories: Making Waves in the USA

(See SPAN 345)

317 Women in Early Modern Spain

(See SPAN 317)

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)