A truly Catholic approach to “gender studies”

Why the new Master of Arts program in Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of St. Thomas in Houston is a first-of-its-kind and fully Catholic program.

(Image: University of St. Thomas, Houston / www.stthom.edu)

Though June is the month dedicated by many Catholics to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, post-Christians and “liberal” Christians have decided to promote “Pride Month,” a time of celebration and promotion of a very strange view of human beings that now goes by the initials LGBTQ. Or, in many cases, a much longer series of letters followed by a plus sign—LGBTQIAA+ is a current one. The letters stand for either sexual passions that are somehow determinative of the center of one’s identity or “gender identities,” which are claims to be something other than your own biological sex based on some sort of mysterious internal feeling.

It’s all both disturbing and very confusing, especially since there are both clerics and Catholic academics who promote this view of the world in which our status as the image of God, created male and female, is discounted as behind the times. Even more especially since so many legal, medical, and even spiritual authorities are now promoting sexual behavior that distorts our nature and even surgeries that mutilate healthy bodies in service of making men, women, and even kids look like the opposite sex. People talk about the medieval period as the “Dark Ages,” but despite the technological wonders we live in, our age is truly dark.

We know, too, that even those who haven’t fully embraced the whole of these destructive ideologies have often taken in a good bit of where they came from. Even when they haven’t forgotten what a woman is, proponents of many secular versions of “feminism” have promoted the idea that abortion and contraception are necessary for female health and flourishing. They have also told women that if they don’t prioritize career over family, they are traitors. And they have often made it clear that public policy that does not allow for and even promote these positions is “anti-woman.”

What can we do? While it’s tempting to simply lament the insanity and try to hide from it, that’s really not an option for most of us. We need answers for our children, to whom these messages are being promoted in many public (and, sadly, even some Catholic) schools. We need ways to respond to pressures to capitulate to demands made at our jobs and in public settings to affirm bad ideas or do things to promote them. And we need to figure out how to promote policies that will actually lead to flourishing for men and women.

We can certainly read and do our own research. There are many good resources being developed these days, including a good many books on how to think about our created nature from authors such as Ryan T. Anderson, Abigail Shrier, Abigail Favale, Carrie Gress, Erika Bachiochi, and many others. But many people will want to do more than read a book or even search some websites and watch videos. They will want to study with those who have studied and thought deeply about these issues, especially from a Catholic perspective.

So where can we do this? I’m very pleased that my own institution, the University of St. Thomas in Houston, has begun a new Master of Arts program in Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies. Those who are familiar with women’s studies and gender studies at most Catholic universities know that such programs are almost always exactly like what one can find at any other university. All of the same secular feminist and gender ideology claims are simply taken as givens, with little attention to the wisdom from Catholic teaching or the broader Catholic intellectual tradition.

UST in Houston’s program is different. As the website explains, this first-of-its-kind program is fully Catholic and “begins with a sound understanding of philosophical and theological anthropology—the nature of human personhood—from the depths of the Catholic intellectual tradition, including Scripture, writings of the saints, such as John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body,’ and noted contemporary Catholic philosophers and theologians.” Indeed, this is a program that doesn’t deny but focuses on “the importance of the physical body, the biological reality of sex, and the body’s role in revealing deep spiritual truths about human identity.”

But the MA in Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies is not simply going to be a philosophical and theological program to allow us to think about the issues more clearly. Its practical aim is to help people understand exactly what are “the effects secular feminist theories have had on women’s health care practices, law, education, family policy, and the culture at large.” Indeed, secular feminism and gender theories form “a multi-faceted international force affecting politics, religion, healthcare, and family structures.” Students in the program will study all these topics in order to “learn to cut through modern ideologies, to identify good arguments, and craft pastoral and policy strategies to promote the full flourishing of men, women, and children.”

The MA in Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies will be useful for almost anyone these days, but particularly those working in media, law, business, healthcare, education, non-profits, and various types of Church organizations. Faculty for the program include many well-known figures doing important work in thought and policy such as Favale, Deborah Savage, Bachiochi, and Franks.

The program will also be convenient for those living anywhere. Otherwise fully online, it will include a 5-day in-person symposium with faculty and students in January. While not everyone will be able to take on a full 30-credit-hour program, there are also options for studying parts of the question. Certificates in Catholic Feminism, Gender and Family Policy, Women’s Health and Wellness, and Sexuality and Gender are all available.

Catholics don’t have to simply curse the darkness of our mixed-up world. The light of Christ shines in Scripture and Tradition in such a way as to cut through that darkness and offer hope and sanity. God created us in his own image, male and female. We can learn how that is very good indeed—and help shape our world.

For more information on the Master of Arts in Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies, go to www.stthom.edu and search for Catholic Women’s and Gender Studies or email program director Leah Jacobson at leah.jacobson@stthom.edu.

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The Catholic Servant.)

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About David Paul Deavel 35 Articles
David Paul Deavel is Associate Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX, and Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. The paperback edition of Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, edited with Jessica Hooten Wilson, is now available in paperback.


  1. We can know through both Faith and reason that the fact that the majority of Gender Studies Programs in Catholic Colleges and Universities are anti Christ and thus anti Christian is evidence enough that we are in the midst of the Great Apostasy . Woe to those Faithless Shepherds, who lacking “The Courage To Be Catholic”, have remained silent, leading so many astray.

  2. You know what leads to gender confusion most of all? Men trying to lead the way on women’s issues. When it comes to women’s bodies, women’s issues, and the place that women hold in society – all you men would do well to keep your mouths shut. By pretending to know-it-all and mansplain femininity to women you have gone and created a subset of transgendered people. What priests and men overall are doing to women in the realm of women’s interests is evil and unholy. Stop it. Just mind your own business and leave women’s issues to women. Stop creating transgenders with your talking down to women and telling us what you *think* you know about our bodies, hearts, and minds.

    • “Just mind your own business and leave women’s issues to women.”

      Meanwhile, in related news, 12 out of the 12 professors in the UST program are (wait for it) women.

      Try reading before ranting. (Yes, I know: I’m a man. But, still, it’s good advice.)

    • Some might wonder why the neutered and ideological term “gender” made its way into the program title…

      But, about step off’s slur of “mansplaining femininity” and about author Deavel’s “biological reality of sex, and the body’s role in revealing deep spiritual truths about human identity,” there’s this from a credible scientific publication: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/taking-sex-differences-in-personality-seriously/

      Lots of links, and a leading one from three wimmensplainers (Cordelia Fine, Dapna Joel, and Gina Rippon).

    • For generations Loving Fathers and Mothers have been raising young gentleman and young ladies who are grounded in Christian morals and values.

      What leads to gender confusion is discrimination against the essence of being in essence a young gentleman or a young lady, due to those who deny the inherent Dignity of a beloved son or daughter, and desire to create chaos and confusion for those who are struggling with developmental issues whose inherent Dignity as a beloved son or daughter must be affirmed, not denied.

    • For someone so down on men telling women what to think, you sure seem willing to turn around in the same breath and tell men what to think.

    • The author did not. He said, “People talk about the medieval period as the ‘Dark Ages,’ but despite the technological wonders we live in, our age is truly dark.”

      To note that people say things is not endorse them.

  3. For almost fifty years I practiced general medicine. I took care of many endocrine problems both male and female. I have seen many who have hormonal differences but medicine does not generally even consider or know about how to test or are allowed to test for these problems. They do exist and are expensive. Some are fixable with or without surgery and some are permanent. To deny hormonal differences and difficulties is to be ignorant of reality.Many are ignorant by choice.

  4. There is a difference between correcting a hormone imbalance to restore health and creating a hormone imbalance and mutilating someone’s body who has a distorted body image which is the result of type of body dysphoria due to an emotional development issue.

    How then, does an attempt to address an emotional development issue by the use of hormones and the mutilation of one’s body in an attempt to change one’s biological gender, which is not possible to begin with, an example of restoring one’s health?

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