Journal Article

Monastic Labor: Thinking about the Work of Monks in Contemporary Theravāda Communities

Thomas Borchert

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 79, issue 1, pages 162-192
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online August 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfq035
Monastic Labor: Thinking about the Work of Monks in Contemporary Theravāda Communities

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The work of Theravāda Buddhist monks is often understood as being focused on two different areas or “burdens”: the burden of books and the burden of insight. In other words, monks (and novices) are supposed to be either studying or meditating. While no one can deny that monks do in fact engage in these activities, this paper argues that these activities comprise only a small portion of the work performed by monastics, a fact that scholars have tended to ignore. On the basis of fieldwork conducted in a Theravāda community in Southwest China, in this paper I argue that we need to have an expanded view of what we should think of as appropriate monastic labor, to include activities that are not usually or necessarily seen as religious. It is only by seeing this wider variety of activities that we can begin to fully understand monks as social actors.

Journal Article.  12132 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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