Article

Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism

Lori Meeks

in Buddhism

ISBN: 9780195393521
Published online April 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0060
Feminist Approaches to the Study of Buddhism

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Although much work on women in Buddhism undertaken today does not convey explicitly feminist aims, the study of women and Buddhism has been influenced by feminist goals and by larger trends in feminist studies. This entry includes both works that are clearly feminist in orientation and works that have been shaped by the broader feminist call to uncover and analyze the gendered discourses that underlie cultural and religious institutions. Early English-language studies of women and Buddhism (see General Overviews) were intimately tied to first-wave Anglo-American feminism, which fought for women’s suffrage and participation in public discourse. Work on women in Buddhism changed in the 1970s and 1980s, when a number of second-wave feminists in North America, seeking spiritual alternatives to Judaism and Christianity, began to look to Buddhism. Second-wave feminism, with its commitment to the recovery of women’s history, to promoting empowering images of women, and to creating more egalitarian cultural practices, gave rise to many studies often undertaken by scholar-practitioners who sought to separate a “usable” Buddhism from that influenced by the social and cultural realities of historical Buddhist communities. Second-wave feminism thus paved the way for feminist reconstructions of Buddhist theology and for Buddhist studies of women with clearly normative aims. In some cases, feminist writers and theologians writing during this period had less philological and historical training in the study of Buddhism than did traditional scholars of Buddhism. As a result, their interpretations of Buddhism were sometimes simplistic. Fortunately, studies of women and gender became increasingly common in Buddhist studies during the 1990s. Those who began turning their attention toward women, gender, and sexuality included not only those with theological or normative feminist aims but also those interested in the philological and literary study of Buddhist texts, in social and cultural studies of Buddhism, and in the social-scientific study of Buddhist communities. The advent of postmodern studies and third-wave feminism has also brought greater nuance and cultural sensitivity to more recent studies of women in Buddhism. In particular, we have seen important critiques of earlier studies that privileged the interests and activities of Anglo-American Buddhists. Recent scholarship has begun to take seriously the interests and subjectivities of Asian and Asian American Buddhist women, and many women active in these communities, in turn, have also begun to contribute to English-language scholarship on women in Buddhism. The field of women and Buddhism is quite rich today, representing a wide range of personal, intellectual, and political commitments.

Article.  10552 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism ; Tibetan Buddhism ; Zen Buddhism

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