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Unit outline_

RLST3605: Sex, Desire and the Sacred

Semester 2, 2022 [Normal day] - Remote

This unit examines the relation between sexuality, desire, gender and the sacred as presented in a diverse range of religious traditions; mysticism; tantra; cults of virginity and abstinence; sacred androgyny; philosophy of religion approach to gender and ontology, epistemology and ethics; cultural difference as it pertains to issues of religion and sexuality.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Studies in Religion
Credit points 6
12 credit points at 2000 level in Studies in Religion
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Jay Johnston,
Lecturer(s) Jay Johnston,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Presentation Presentation
10% Multiple weeks 1000wd
Outcomes assessed: LO3 LO5
Participation Tutorial participation
Tutorial participation
10% Ongoing n/a
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO5 LO3
Assignment Essay
50% Week 06
Due date: 09 Sep 2022 at 23:00
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4
Assignment Public Discourse Analysis
Public Discourse Analysis
30% Week 10
Due date: 14 Oct 2022 at 23:00
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5

Assessment summary

Presentation: Students are required to deliver a 10 minute presentation on an allocated tutorial topic.

Participation: Students are required to engage in discussions on-line and via Canvas discussion boards throughout the unit

Essay: Students are required to respond to one essay question from a list provided. Further instructions will be given in class.

Public Discourse Analysis: Students are required to select one example of public discourse and analyse its presentation of relevant unit themes. Further instructions will be given in class.  

Assessment criteria

Please see the Faculty Guide to Grades for a breakdown of the assessment framework for all assessment tasks in this unit.

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

As per Faculty guidelines

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Instructions with regard to reading requirements will be provided in class.

Week 1: No Readings

Week 2

Beier, Ulli. Yoruba Myths. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Archive. 1980, pp. x–xiv.

Joseph M., and Mei-Mei Sanford. "Introduction." In Osun across the Waters: A Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. edited by Joseph M. Murphy   and Mei-Mei Sanford, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 2001, pp.      1–9.

Temisanren, Ebijuwa. "Views of Women in Yoruba Culture and Their Impact on the Abortion Decision." Women & Health 22, no. 3 (1995): 1–8.

"The Secret Book of John." In The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and   Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts Complete in One Volume, edited by Marvin Meyer, New York: HarperOne, 2009, 103–32. 

King, Karen. "Reading Sex and Gender in the Secret Revelation of John." The Journal of Early Christian Studies 19, no. 4 (2011): 519–538.

Week 3: Abstinence and Excess: Discourses of Regulation

Staples, Ariadne. From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins: Sex and Category in Roman Religion. London: Routledge, 1998, pp. 129–156.

Augustine: ‘Adolescence'. Translated by Henry Chadwick. In Confessions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 24–34.

Week 4: Queering Traditions

Wilcox, Melissa M. "Queer Theory and the Study of Religion." In Queer Religion. Volume 2: LGBT Movements and Queering Religion. edited by Donald L. Boisvert and Jay Emerson Johnson, Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012, pp. 227-   251.

Kripal, Jeffrey J. The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 29–58.

Lefkovitz, Lori Hope. "Passing as a Man: Narratives of Jewish Gender  Performance." Narrative 10, no. 1 (2002): 91–103.

Week 5: Androgyny, Celibacy and the 'Sexless' Individual

Michael F. Brown, ‘Toward Sacred Androgyny,’ in The Channeling Zone: American Spirituality in an Anxious Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997, pp. 93-114.

Raine, Susan. "Reconceptualising the human body: Heaven's Gate and the quest for divine transformation." Religion 35, no. 2 (2005): 98–117. 

Week 6: Philosophies of Desire & Sexual Difference

Irigaray, Luce. "Sexual Difference." Translated by Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. In An Ethics of Sexual Difference. Ithaca: Cornell University   Press, 1993, pp. 5–19.

Irigaray, Luce. "Spiritual Tasks for Our Age." In Luce Irigaray: Key Writings. London and New York: Continuum, 2004, pp. 171–185.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. "The Body without Organs." Translated by      Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. In Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983, pp. 9–16.

Protevi, John. "The Organism as the Judgement of God: Aristotle, Kant and Deleuze on Nature (that is, On Biology, Theology and Politics)." In  Deleuze and Religion. edited by Mary Bryden. London and New York: Routledge, 2001, pp. 30–41.

Week 7: Eros: From Greek Myth to Modern Theory

Bataille, Georges. ‘Mysticism and Sensuality’ in Eroticism (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1957), reprinted Mary Dalwood, trans.London and New York: Marion Boyars, 1987, pp. 221-251.

Week 8: 

Blain, Jenny. ‘Ergi Seiðman, Queer Transformations?’ in Nine Worlds of Seid- Magic: Ecstasy and Neo- Shamanism in North European Paganism. London and New York: Routledge, 2002, pp. 111-141. 

Pinch, Geraldine. Handbook of Egyptian Mythology.  Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2002, pp. 78–80.

Week 9: Desire and Mysticism

Amy Hollywood, ‘Mysticism, Trauma, and Catastrophe in Angela of          Foligno’sBook and Bataille’s Atheological Summa’, inSensible Ecstasy:  Mysticism, Sexual Difference and the Demands of History,Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2002, pp. 60-87.

Week 10: Tantra, Sacred Sex and Sex Magic

David Gordon White, ‘The Blood of the Yogini: Vital and Sexual Fluids inSouth Asian Thought and Practice,’ in Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in  its South Asian Contexts, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, pp. 67-93. 

Urban, Hugh B. "India’s Darkest Heart: Tantra in the Literary Imagination." In Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, pp. 106–133.

Djurdjevic, Gordan. "Solve et Coagula: Attitudes toward the Ambrosial Aspects of Human Seed in Certain Yogic Traditions and in the Sexual Magick of Aleister Crowley." Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 10, no. 1 (2010): 85–106. 

Week 11: Sexual Energies: Self and World

Yao, Xinzhong. "Harmony of Yin and Yang: Cosmology and Sexuality in    Daoism." In Sexuality and the World’s Religions. edited by David W. Machacek and Melissa M. Wilcox. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 65–99

Rita M. Gross, ‘Gender and Buddha-Nature: Feminist Comments on Third-Turning Teachings and on the Vajrayana,’ in Buddhism after Patriarchy:  A Feminist History, Analysis, and Reconstruction of Buddhism, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 185-206. 

Week 12: Gender and Supernatural Beings

Barnes, Nancy J. "Lady Rokujō's Ghost: Spirit Possession, Buddhism, and Healing in Japanese Literature." Literature and Medicine 8, no. 1(1989):106–121.


Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Develop skills in critical thinking and disciplinary knowledge
  • LO2. Increase knowledge and understanding of cultural diversity and difference
  • LO3. Develop skills in oral and written communication
  • LO4. Increase capacity for interdisciplinary analysis
  • LO5. Utilise knowledge and analysis skills in understanding and participating in the contemporary world

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

No changes have been made since this unit was last offered'.


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