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Studying Buddhism to Study Women: Sources, Topics, and Questions from Medieval China
Taking the example of Northern Wei Empress Dowager Ling (d. 528 CE) as a case study, this talk asks the question of â€œWhat new things can we learn about women in medieval China through Buddhist Studies?â€ Particularly, by contrasting the ways in which the Empress Dowager is depicted in normative dynastic histories and other historiographical material against the image of her that arises by surveying Buddhist materials, the presentation shows how, for womenâ€™s history, Buddhist sources constitute an extraordinary and relatively untapped archive of potentially ground-breaking source material. Looking to this archive, the paper argues, allows us to tell completely different stories about women who lived in China between the 4th and 6th centuries than the ones that we are accustomed to reading and hearing. With their stories told in in donative and mortuary epigraphy, and reflected in architectural remains and the sponsorship of Buddhist texts and monastic communities, many women in early medieval China actively supported the popularization and spread of Buddhism in East Asia. We will meet many such women in this talk and try to answer the question of why it was that Buddhism, per se, was so attractive to them.
Stephanie Balkwill is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at The University of Winnipeg, in Canada. Her research area is medieval Chinese Buddhism and she publishes on Buddhist literatures of sexuality and gender, Buddhism and the state, and the lives of Buddhist women. She is currently completing a monograph on elite Buddhist women at the court of Northern Wei Empress Dowager Ling. She is looking forward to joining the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA in 2021.