Current Institutional Affiliation
Religion, Duke University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Religion, Duke University
Religion, Gender, and the Public Sphere: The Revival of Female Buddhist Monasticism in Post-Socialist China--A Case Study of the Pushou Nunnery on Mount Wutai

In the last two decades, China has experienced a large-scale religious revival, both within the popular religious sphere and within such institutionalized religions as Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, and Islam. One striking aspect of China’s religious boom is the rapid development of a female Buddhist movement. My dissertation project systematically investigates the rise of the female monastic movement in contemporary China by studying a community of nuns and laywomen at the Pushou Nunnery (Nunnery of Universal Life) on the sacred mountain Wutai, an area that has been critically important in the development of Chinese and other Asian Buddhisms, and the site of a contemporary Buddhist revival. The key questions driving this study are: how has the contemporary Buddhist revival in China changed Buddhist women’s role in Chinese society, and how have women simultaneously transformed Buddhism in the process of Buddhist modernization and globalization? In my dissertation, I draw upon Jürgen Habermas’s formulation of the “public sphere,” which he defines as a realm mediating between the state and the conjugal family (Habermas 1989), and at the same time I address the limits of his theory: i.e., he ignores women’s agency and regards religion as a private activity (Fraser 1992; Zaret 1992). I will contend that convents such as the Pushou Nunnery constitute an alternative public sphere, where Chinese women can be free from the discrimination and marginalization they experience in mainstream, male-dominated society, and where they can exercise leadership, develop educational institutions, participate in political debates, and conduct philanthropic work.