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Writing women into religious histories : re-reading representations of Chûjôhime in medieval Japanese Buddhist narratives Dix, Monika

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on representations of Chûjôhime, a legendary eighth-century noblewoman, in medieval Japanese Buddhist narratives. Through an examination of literary, religious, and cultural discourses on women in medieval Japan, this study considers how reception histories and conditions surrounding the production of pictorial Buddhist narratives are linked. By examining the socio-historical and religious conditions in which the legend of Chûjôhime developed and expanded from a doctrinal Buddhist tale of female salvation in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) to a popular text for the religious and cultural edification of women in the Muromachi period (1392-1573), and analyzing its literary structure, and the gender criticism it employs, I demonstrate how this narrative was used to establish a place for women in the literary, religious and socio-historical arenas, at a time when women’s participation in religious institutions and society, as well as their economic power, were gradually declining. This dissertation offers a new approach to understanding the role of women as agents, as it traces a dialogue that questions feminine disclosure and the significance of texts and images as means of empowerment, oppression, and socio-religious criticism by re-evaluating the place of gender in the history of medieval Japanese Buddhism.

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