Women in Pali Buddhism

Walking the Spiritual Paths in Mutual Dependence

By Pascale Engelmajer

© 2015 – Routledge

138 pages | 6 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:
Hardback: 9780415629942
pub: 2014-10-24
US Dollars$145.00

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About the Book

The Pali tradition presents a diverse and often contradictory picture of women. This book examines women’s roles as they are described in the Pali canon and its commentaries. Taking into consideration the wider socio-religious context and drawing from early brahmanical literature and epigraphical findings, it contrasts these descriptions with the doctrinal account of women’s spiritual abilities.

The book explores gender in the Pali texts in order to delineate what it means to be a woman both in the context in which the texts were composed and in the context of their ultimate goal - that of achieving escape from the round of rebirths. The critical investigation focuses on the internal relationships and dynamics of one tradition and employs a novel methodology, which the author calls "critical sympathy". This assumes that the tradition’s teaching is valid for all, in particular that its main goal, nibba?a, is accessible to all human beings. By considering whether and how women’s roles fit within this path, the author examines whether women have spiritual agency not only as bhikkhunis (Buddhist nuns), but also as wives and mothers. It offers a new understanding that focuses on how the tradition construes women’s traditional roles within an interdependent community. It aims to understand how what many scholars have seen as contradictory and inconsistent characterizations of women in Buddhism have been accepted and endorsed by the Pali tradition.

With an aim to show that the Pali canon offers an account of women that is doctrinally coherent and consistent with its sociological facts, this book will be of interest to students and scholars of Buddhism and Asian Religion.

Table of Contents

1. The King’s daughter

2. A Buddhist theory of gender: what is a woman?

3. A woman’s traditional career: from daughter to wife

4. Only Dhamma pays off the filial debt

5. Motherhood as a soteriological path

6. Bhikkhunīs and the four assemblies

7. The Buddhist family: spiritual paths for women

About the Author

Pascale Engelmajer is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of History, Politics, Religion and Philosophy at Carroll University in Wisconsin.

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism

Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism is a comprehensive study of the Buddhist tradition. The series explores this complex and extensive tradition from a variety of perspectives, using a range of different methodologies. The series is diverse in its focus, including historical, philological, cultural, and sociological investigations into the manifold features and expressions of Buddhism worldwide. It also presents works of constructive and reflective analysis, including the role of Buddhist thought and scholarship in a contemporary, critical context and in the light of current social issues. The series is expansive and imaginative in scope, spanning more than two and a half millennia of Buddhist history. It is receptive to all research works that are of significance and interest to the broader field of Buddhist Studies.

Some of the titles in the series are published in association with the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which conducts and promotes rigorous teaching and research into all forms of the Buddhist tradition.

Editorial Advisory Board:
James A. Benn, McMaster University, Canada

Jinhua Chen, The University of British Columbia, Canada

Rupert Gethin, University of Bristol, UK

Peter Harvey, University of Sunderland, UK

Sallie King, James Madison University, USA

Anne Klein, Rice University, USA

Lori Meeks, University of Southern California, USA;

Ulrich Pagel, School of Oriental and African Studies, UK

John Powers, Australian National University, Australia;

Juliane Schober, Arizona State University, USA

Vesna A. Wallace, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Michael Zimmermann, University of Hamburg, Germany

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Buddhism / General (see also PHILOSOPHY / Buddhist)
RELIGION / Buddhism / Rituals & Practice