Student Profiles

Amy K. Hoyt
Ph.D. Religion Completed September 2007
Women’s Studies in Religion-Theology, Ethics and Culture
Dissertation Title: “Agency, Subjectivity and Essentialism within Traditional Religious Cultures: An Ethnographic Study of an American Latter-day Saint Community”

"I loved my experiences at Claremont!"

After completing both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Women’s Studies, Amy Hoyt began at CGU in 1999 with the first incoming class of WSR Ph.D. students. She found this group greatly inspiring, combining a wide mixture of ages, backgrounds, cultures, and religions. Amidst this creative and innovative group, she served as WSR Assistant and helped to establish the Office of Religion and Culture (for more information, please click here.  

Amy Hoyt’s dissertation uses ethnography to examine the feminist theoretical category of agency among contemporary Mormon women in the U.S. European and U.S. feminist theories often place feminist notions in tension against religious worldviews through the theoretical category of “resistance,” specifically resistance by women against traditional religious cultures. Hoyt problematizes such oppositional strategies, instead elaborating on notions of agency and subjectivity acting within the contemporary Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She emphasizes the centrality of religious cosmology in shaping the worldviews of religious women, and within this context, she explores the parameters of feminist consciousness. Hoyt’s ethnographic research shows that feminist agency need not be resistant to tradition. Hoyt places her work on Mormon women in conversation with Saba Mahmood’s work on Muslim women, which also pushes the feminist notion of agency beyond the idea of resistance. Mahmood worked with Muslim women in Egypt, concluding that one can use agency to diverge from religious tradition or to maintain tradition, each direction with its consequences. Through culturally specific work, Hoyt critiques and expands feminist methods in approaching traditional religious women, fostering further understanding about feminist consciousness among conservative religious women, as well as the limits of politically liberal feminist theory when applied within Mormonism, a distinctive American religious setting.

Amy Hoyt lectures on numerous topics related to Mormonism, feminism, and gender studies, including the following: “Fixing Feminism: The Perpetual Second-Wave within American Mormonism,” “Remembering the Subaltern: Postcolonial Theory within Mormon History,” “Muscular Mormonism: Masculinity in the Early Church,” “Mother in Heaven: The Mormon Goddess,” and “The Continuum of Mormon Women in the ERA Ratification.”

During her last year of dissertation writing, Hoyt balanced writing with full-time teaching as Visiting Professor at University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. In this position, she taught Introduction to Religious Studies; a Freshman Seminar; and Religion, Gender, and Family. The latter course emphasized a comparative approach, using ethnographic examples from U.S.-based Christian and Muslim communities.

In addition to her academic work, Dr. Hoyt and her husband have a 3-1/2 year old son, with a second son on the way in February 2008. She loves spending time with her son, and the tight job market buys her a bit of time with family as she gets her foot in the academic door.

In reflection on the place of religion within women’s studies, Hoyt hopes that prominent feminists like Judith Butler adding their voices to the study of religion will widen the field of contemporary women’s studies toward further work on women in religion.

Diane Ward
Ph.D. Religion Student
Women’s Studies in Religion-Theology, Ethics and Culture
Dissertation Area:
A Feminist Understanding of Moral Agency in Relation to an Ethic of Embodiment

Diane Ward takes time out from her studies to enjoy lunch with WSR colleagues Theresa Yugar and Sarah Robinson.

Diane Ward studies individual moral agency in the context of Catholicism, feminism, and the bioethics of reproductive technologies. Diane has exams in feminist Christian ethics, feminist theology, feminist bioethics, and embodiment in Christianity. Her dissertation will provide an insider critique of Roman Catholic moral theology and orthodox views of moral agency. A Catholic “well-formed conscience” involves internalization of the hierarchical social organization of church institutions. Traditional hierarchy highlighting domination and subordination stands in tension with a model of mutuality and reciprocity, in which both participants in an exchange may flourish. In this critique, she asserts that the laity are expected to remain moral children, rather than maturing into moral adults. The process of individual discernment of moral integrity is a vital process, to discover self-consciously and self-critically how to live and how to treat others. In Ward’s definition, moral agency is the practice of discernment about limitations, physical and mental, what is or is not negotiable or changeable, and how a person copes with these realities, not as a victim of circumstance, but as an active participant in forming one’s relational existence.

Ward will apply her model of renewed moral adulthood to bioethical questions involving reproductive technologies, since such technologies are nested in social and physical existence. For example, specific circumstances influence moral questions on abortions to terminate pregnancies conceived through rape. Her major influences are Carol Gilligan, Carter Heyward, and Beverly Harrison, as she engages with feminist discourse on the significance of female embodiment, such as cultural projections of inevitable motherhood for female bodies. Since breaking her foot in February 2006, she has added insight into the variation of embodied perspectives, and the context of each body within limitations. Although Ward is generating a model of mature moral agency, she acknowledges that getting there via culture change is yet another question.

Ward comes to the WSR program following a full career practicing corporate securities law, from which she took an early retirement, though she has always been drawn to academics. She chose CGU’s WSR program in her search for a feminist environment after witnessing three decades of backlash against feminism. In her educational past, she advanced to candidacy in a Ph.D. program in English in the 1970s, publishing on healing the split presented by the virgin-whore motif. She then earned her JD from the UCLA School of Law in 1977 and went into private practice, spending her last fifteen years as part of a corporate legal staff. She also studied bioethics in the context of her 2002 Master of Theology degree at Loyola Marymount University. Ward’s review of Rosemary Ruether’s 2007 publication America, Amerikkka will appear in a periodical of the Women’s Ordination Conference, an organization of Catholic women supporting the priesthood of women. At the National Conference of the American Academy of Religion in fall 2007, she co-convened a panel honoring Dr. Ruether’s work and highlighting America, Amerikkka.

Lai Suat Yan / Suat Yan Lai
Ph.D. Religion Student
Women’s Studies in Religion-Buddhist Studies, Thai Theravada Buddhism
Working Dissertation Title: Female Gender as Field of Merit: The Establishment of Bhikkuni Ordination in Thailand by Venerable Dhammananda

“Working on this dissertation reminds me of the principle of impermanence and, borro
wing from Margaret Mead, how a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens like Venerable Dhammananda and her followers can bring about change over time.”

Suat Yan Lai (Lai is her family name) studies women, gender, and Buddhism in the present day work of Buddhist leader Venerable Dhammananda, who offers women the opportunity to ordain as monks in the Theravada Buddhist context in Thailand. Venerable Dhammananda’s work represents a contemporary women’s movement in Thai Buddhist monasticism, because advancing women into the traditionally male role of “monk” carries gender symbolism, religious value, and social content.

In Thai culture, parents benefit socially and religiously from the “merit” gained through their son’s ordination as a Buddhist monk, augmenting the family’s chances for a beneficial rebirth in reincarnation. The ordination process also transforms the monk from merit-seeker to merit-giver, or “field of merit,” a role traditionally impossible for women to serve for their families and communities. Due to the traditionally lower status of Thai Buddhist nuns—who observe eight precepts and are known as “mae chi”—the family of a nun gains less merit than the family of an ordained man, or monk, and nuns are not recognized as part of the male monastic order, or sangha. In addition, in Thai tradition, monks may be ordained for temporary periods and given a great deal of respect and social status for the duration of their monkhood, while women enjoy no parallel. To address these disparities, female Buddhist leader and former university professor, Venerable Dhammananda prioritizes ordaining women as monks rather than nuns, to participate in leveling the social and religious status of women in both the Buddhist sangha and the larger society of Thailand. This is particularly significant among poorer families, such as in Northern Thailand, where sons may be ordained, while daughters may enter prostitution in order to support the financial needs of the family, as well as her brother’s ordination. Therefore, female ordination to Buddhist monkhood acts as an alternative construction of gender identity and social status, with religious, economic, and social significance.

Originally from Malaysia, Suat Yan Lai has a rich and varied background in academic and activist work. She attended the Institute of Social Studies at the Hague in the Netherlands, where she received a Master’s degree in Development Studies, specifically in Politics of Alternative Development Strategies, with specializations in Women and Development, plus Environment and Sustainable Development. She also worked in women’s and human rights NGOs in Malaysia, coordinating projects and research for both the National Council of Women’s Organizations and Suara Rakyat Malaysia/Sub-committee on Detention without Trial, Death Penalty and Torture. She taught Gender Studies at the University of Malaya for five years before coming to Claremont. During this time, she co-wrote and researched for the Malaysian government’s National Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women. To pursue her studies in Claremont, Lai received several awards and scholarships, including a Fulbright fellowship. She returns to Malaysia in spring 2008, to teach while she completes her dissertation.


Paula McGee
Ph.D. Religion Student
Women’s Studies in Religion-Theology, Ethics and Culture
Dissertation Title:
“The New Black Church: I Bling Because I’m Happy”


Paula McGee's vision is to inspire women to greatness.

Reverend Paula L. McGee is a WSR Ph.D. student analyzing theological, ethical, and cultural challenges posed by the mega-church, televangelist, Black church movement. Applying an ideological critique, she argues that these churches directly result from advanced capitalism positioning itself as the first, true, world religion.

Paula’s “other life” has been as a professional basketball player, winning NCAA National Championships with University of Southern California two years in a row, and then playing for professional teams in the U.S., Spain and Italy, with convenient opportunities for language study. She has been featured on the covers of Black Enterprise and Jet Magazine.

Paula’s basketball career came to a close as she felt called to ministry and education in religion, with a vision to “inspire every woman to recognize, accept, and fulfill her call to greatness.”  She completed her M.Div. at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and an M.A. Religion at Vanderbilt University. Today, she preaches around the country as an ordained Baptist minister, while completing her WSR Ph.D. degree at CGU. Her presentation for the 2007 AAR Annual Meeting in San Diego is entitled “Power and Pedagogy.” She has also offered lectures and thematic panel presentations at previous AAR National and Western Regional Meetings, with titles like: “Why the Black Church Can’t Talk about Homosexuality,” “What is Literature? Whose Literature is It?: Poetic Expression in a Postmodern Context,” and “The New Black Church: ‘I Bling Because I am Happy’ and the Traditional Refuge of the Black Church.”

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