Rita Gross was a pioneer in the study of women and religion, influencing the field in various important ways. Gross began with a focus on the ways in which women participate in religion, something which had scarcely been studied at all when she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s. Her doctoral thesis was titled Exclusion and Participation: The Role of Women in Aboriginal Australian Religion, and she went on to study the role of women in other religions, particularly Buddhism and Judaism.
Before Gross did this work, it was generally assumed that women worshipped and understood God in the same way as men. Gross showed that women had a different conception of the divine. For instance, in the Aboriginal Australian religions she studied, menstruation and childbirth were significant factors in both spirituality and ritual.
With these different concerns came a new way of speaking about God, and Gross criticized the androcentric language of Judaism and Christianity in particular. In 1976, Gross published a groundbreaking article called "Female God Language in a Jewish Context," which was the beginning of a career-long examination of the way in which the female side of God can be expressed. Gross was critical of the dichotomy between a general admission that God encompasses both male and female and the way in which cultural representations of and writing about God often reflect only the male half of this duality.