UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The feminist Buddha : Buddhist nuns in contemporary Chengdu and their nuanced approach to progress, agency, and leadership Fink, Sarah


This thesis explores the relationship between gender and Buddhism as it applies to conceptions of feminist progress, agency and leadership in contemporary Chengdu. These ideas are investigated using analysis of ethnographic field research conducted at three Chengdu nunneries, Aidaotang 愛道堂, Tiexiangsi 鐵像寺, and Jinsha’an 金沙庵, from May to August 2019. During these months, surveys were distributed inquiring into various aspects of the female religious experience. By combining survey data with the broader context of religion in Chengdu, this research reflects on the experiences of women in a Buddhist monastic institution and the lasting impact of “charismatic” female leadership by the nun, Longlian 隆蓮 (1909–2006). Furthermore, this thesis aims to bring attention to the lesser heard voices of ordinary Buddhist nuns. Through analysis of the views expressed in regard to the eight gurudhammas, education, and ordination procedures, this thesis demonstrates how these contemporary Chinese Buddhist women perceive of their relationship to Buddhism through a simultaneous combination of feminist notions and adherence to strict monastic discipline. By utilizing the lesser heard voices of these Buddhist nuns, this thesis highlights variations in the religious experiences of Buddhist women and presents a nuanced approach to feminist values in a monastic environment along the lines of progress, agency, and leadership.

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