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Images of Buddhist women in 10th-13th century China

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Doctor of Philosophy in Religious Studies


Capitanio, Joshua
Lancaster, Lewis R.
Iwamura, Jane N.


This dissertation demonstrates the activities of Buddhist in 10th-13th century China. It points out that the rise of Chan during the Song dynasty provided more opportunities for women to participate in social activities and self-development.

I discuss the significance of lay women’s social status and ordination as quite a number of elite women were teaching and practicing even before they were ordained. Ordination, therefore, became the final recognition of their high social status. I point out that Buddhism played an important part in women’s participation in social activities, and furthermore offered a platform for women to engage in a highly developed social and religious educational system. Through case studies of several elite women’s Buddhist activities, I argue that during the Song dynasty, to be ordained as a female monastic was a special channel through which women could seek a public teaching career. Chan’s development in particular provided women a chance to develop a unique, personal teaching strategy. Therefore, this dissertation will address the status of ordained women through discussing the relationship of several correlative issues, such as women within Buddhist communities, their status in inter-religious contexts, Buddhist women and government and economics, and Buddhist ideology. In order to give the whole picture of Buddhist women during this period, my discussion will have some detailed case studies in addition to a broad overview.

The dissertation draws on a broad range of resources, both primary and secondary, such as Chan writings, biographies, historical records, and Dunhuang wall paintings and manuscripts. I will use historical and literary analysis to review the recent studies of women during the Song dynasty and point out the important social and cultural influence of Buddhist women in 10th-13th century China.

This dissertation attempts to provide a broad picture of Buddhist women in China during this period. It provides a detailed and comprehensive overview of Buddhist women’s social life and practice. In particular, it demonstrates the distinctive teaching style and leadership of elite women in China during this time period. Furthermore, it provides a new perspective from which to study female Dharma lineages and transmission by Buddhist women which have often been hidden or neglected in previous studies.

Degree Granter

University of the West



Library Holding