Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

3 - Genealogies of Power and Gender: Inscribing Buddhist Monasticism Then and Now.

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

The recent higher ordination (upsampadā) of nuns in the Southern (Theravada) Buddhist tradition continues to generate controversy among practitioners and scholars alike.  That controversy is often referenced in a discourse that is informed by an age-old narrative related to a genealogy of (dis)empowerment of women in Buddhism. By centering on how early studies of Buddhist monastic rules have inscribed notions of (dis)empowerment into readings of the Vinaya (code of discipline), and the extent to which such readings have impacted contemporary scholars, and are congruent with interpretations among Buddhist nuns today, this paper examines how genealogies of power and gender present themselves in the current debates about Theravada Buddhist nuns. Based on interviews conducted in Sri Lanka in the past three years, and raising questions about the orientalization of Buddhism (crystallized in the figure of an idealized Buddhist monastic), this paper demonstrates how Theravada nuns both with and without the upsampadā address questions about gender, empowerment, and monastic life that are distinctly different from those found in orientalizing discourses about Buddhist monastic rules. Although the (dis)empowerment of Buddhist nuns continues to be a focus in some scholarly accounts about the upsampadā of nuns, foregrounding the everyday practice of Buddhist nuns provides a different perspective on the significance of the upsampadā in the monastic life of nuns. Overall, this paper argues that contemporary Buddhist nuns engage genealogies of power in ways that necessitate questioning established narratives about Buddhist monastic rules.

Nirmala Salgado

Religion Dept., Augustana College, United States

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